VCU FINDS A LITTLE OF ITS OLD SELF; HAS LAST LAUGH ON RICHMOND

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Melvin Johnson hit five threes and scored 23 points in VCU's 70-67 win over Richmond Friday.

Melvin Johnson hit five threes and scored 23 points in VCU’s 70-67 win over Richmond Friday.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – It was a game against Richmond that originally jolted VCU into its darkest stretch under Shaka Smart, and it might have taken a game against Richmond to shock the Rams back to life.

After two crushing losses to the Spiders this season – a third if you count Briante Weber’s knee – VCU found a way to look a little more like itself Friday on the way to a heart-pounding, come-from-behind, 70-67 Atlantic 10 Quarterfinal victory at Barclays Center.

The win sends the fifth-seeded Rams back to the A-10 semifinals, where they’ll face top-seeded Davidson at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Bronx native Melvin Johnson enjoyed a strong shooting performance for the second straight night and finished with 23 points for the Rams. He hit 5-of-6 threes in the first half as VCU grabbed a 37-36 lead. When his jumper abandoned him in the second half, Johnson found other ways to bolster the Rams, including a steal and breakaway layup and later an assist on a go-ahead 3-pointer as VCU scored its biggest triumph, emotionally and practically, since January.

It was a VCU victory with a cathartic bent.

The Rams were nationally ranked and in the midst of a 12-game winning streak when a game with the rival Spiders on Jan. 31 altered the course of the season. Not only did VCU lose that game at the Siegel Center, it also lost Weber to a torn ACL in the waning moments. The Rams closed the regular season with a 5-6 stretch and lost heartbreakers to St. Bonaventure (at the buzzer), La Salle (in double overtime) and again, Richmond (also in double overtime). Once 7-0 in league play, the Rams slipped to the A-10 Tournament’s No. 5 seed.

VCU has spent the last six weeks trying to find itself without Weber, who was not only the Rams’ starting point guard, but their emotional cornerstone.

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RELENTLESS RAMS ESTABLISHING DEFENSIVE PERSONA

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VCU's Havoc defense forced 17 turnovers Friday.

RICHMOND, Va. – Exasperated Richmond Head Coach Chris Mooney sat before a throng of reporters shoehorned into the unremarkable media room in the bowels of VCU’s Siegel Center. He sighed as he before he sought to explain what he’d just witnessed. We were obligated to ask, but it didn’t take a perfect SAT score to figure out that VCU’s “Havoc” wreaking defense had just systematically beat the Spiders into submission.

By the time it was over, a close game had dissolved into a 73-51 punchline. Mooney watched helplessly as his normally steady team, which carried a three-game winning streak into Friday’s anticipated matchup, became unhinged in the face of constant VCU pressure.

“I don’t want to think that…but I also know that’s what the pressure’s designed to do,” Mooney said. “It’s designed to wear you down during the course of the game and of course our guards were in there for such a long time. Maybe it was more indicative of the missed shots. I don’t like to think that’s the case, but it very well could have been.”

VCU’s victory Friday came via the best defensive performance to date from a Rams team that’s earning a rep for chaos creation. The evidence was in every corner of the box score.

The previously sure-handed Spiders entered the game averaging just over 11 turnovers a game, but they had 10 in the first half alone and finished the game with 17. Forward Darrius Garrett committed seven turnovers, as many as the entire VCU team combined. Go-Kart guard Kendall Anthony, Richmond’s leading scorer, was 5-of-18 from the field, including 3-of-11 from 3-point range.

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KNOW YOUR ENEMY: RICHMOND SPIDERS

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Seriously?

RICHMOND SPIDERS
2011-12 Record:
6-2
Key games:
Def. Rutgers 58-53; Def. William & Mary 92-61; Def. Wake Forest 70-62; Lost to Davidson 74-61; Lost to Illinois 70-61
2010-11 Record:
29-8 (13-3 Atlantic 10)
2010-11 RPI: 33
Heckle-worthy:
Kendall Anthony, Fr., G (15.4 ppg, 44% 3FG); Cedrick Lindsay, Jr., G (11.5 ppg, 4.4 apg).
The skinny:
The similarities between VCU and Richmond are quite interesting. Both are coming off exciting runs deep into the NCAA Tournament. Both teams’ coaches turned down overtures from BCS Conference schools to stay in Richmond. Both squads graduated three starters. Each will also rely heavily on a Benedictine graduate (Darien Brothers) this season.

Returning starters Brothers, a 6-3 sharpshooting guard, and Francis-Cedric Martel, a 6-6 forward (4.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg) will try to offset the loss of seniors Kevin Anderson, Justin Harper and Dan Geriot, who accounted for 63 percent of the Spiders’ scoring in 2010-11.

VCU fans hope the Rams remember every agonizing second of a 72-60 loss to the Spiders last season. Despite the 12-point final margin, anybody who watched the game knows it wasn’t even remotely that close.

Like VCU, the Spiders are led by strong guard play. Anthony is 5-feet-8, 140-pounds of instant offense. The Tennessee native recently dropped 21 points on Wake Forest and is shooting 44 percent (16-of-36) from 3-point range. Brothers and Lindsay are also dangerous. Sophomore Derrick Williams (10.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg) leads the frontcourt.

Richmond’s matchup zone gave the Rams fits last season, and the Spiders look effective on defense again this year. Opponents are shooting 37 percent from the field, including 28 percent from three. UR is not a particularly good rebounding team (-3.5 margin), but the Spiders are sound with the ball (11.5 TO/pg).


About Richmond:
The school opened a “disc golf” (read: Frisbee golf) course earlier this year, “to promote leisurely activity”. This is similar to my decision to open a horseshoe pit in the back yard and call it “equestrian studies”.
Fast fact:
Harper, who was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 32nd overall pick in the NBA Draft in June (later traded to the Orlando Magic), ranked second in the A-14 last year in 3-point shooting (.448) – as a 6-10 forward.

DIMINUTIVE ANTHONY A TALL ORDER FOR VCU

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Guard Kendall Anthony is averaging 15.4 points per game for Richmond this season.

RICHMOND, Va. – Once again, the scouting report on Richmond’s basketball team will be headlined by an undersized, agile, score-first point guard with the initials K.A.

Spider great Kevin Anderson and his 2,000 career points are not on Richmond’s team this season, but 5-foot-8, 140-pound freshman Kendall Anthony is, and he’s doing a pretty good Anderson impersonation this season.

Through eight games, Anthony has been splendid for the Spiders, averaging a team-leading 15.4 points in 24.0 minutes per game off the bench. The runner-up for Tennessee Mr. Basketball last season, Anthony has posted two 20-point games, including 21 his last time out at Wake Forest. He’s shooting 44 percent (16-of-36) from 3-point range.

Richmond is coming off back-to-back NCAA appearances, including last year’s Sweet 16 berth, but the Spiders were thought to be rebuilding. Richmond, much like VCU, lost three critical senior starters.

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