RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Three losses in four games have Richmond clinging to slim hopes of making the NCAA tournament, and their best hope for enhancing their postseason resume comes Thursday night when VCU comes calling.
The Rams (22-7, 10-4) are coming off their own resume-enhancer, a home victory against No. 17 Saint Louis, and will be looking to avenge an overtime loss at Richmond last season that featured an improbable comeback by the Spiders. VCU led by seven with 42 seconds to play before the Spiders tied it at the end of regulation, then won going away in overtime.
“We’re excited about the challenge of going there,” Rams coach Shaka Smart said this week. “Last year we went there and thought for a lot of the game that we played well, but we did not finish the job.”
The Spiders (18-11, 8-6 Atlantic 10) are 12-3 at home this season, but have been using a rotation of just seven players since losing two starters at the beginning of the month. One of them, guard Cedrick Lindsay, was their leading scorer and a critical cog in Richmond’s ability to beat the Rams' press.
His absence places added pressure on junior Kendall Anthony, who now leads Richmond in scoring. Anthony was effective in beating the press with his speed when the teams met at VCU on Feb. 1, but that was with Lindsay also in the lineup. He went on the shelf with a torn meniscus in each knee following the game and has been replaced by a combination of freshman ShawnDre’ Jones and junior Aaron Sparrow.
“We’ll handle it the same way,” the 5-foot-8 Anthony said of avoiding the Rams’ traps with fast dashes into the front court. “Most of the times we’ll attack it, be aggressive and be cautious at the same time.”
Anthony has averaged nearly 38 minutes since Lindsay got hurt, and might have shown signs of wearing down when he missed 18 of 20 shots five days ago as the Spiders scored just 15 first-half points in a 66-43 loss to Rhode Island. It followed a 69-60 loss at George Mason, a game in which Richmond managed just 16 first-half points and trailed by 21 at halftime.
Facing the Rams’ 94-foot pressure won’t make turning things around any easier, coach Chris Mooney said, and probably places even more pressure on Anthony to play as close to all 40 minutes as possible.
“If you are a little bit short-handed, as we are, then the pressure takes more of a toll because it can wear you down,” Mooney said, laughing at his predicament. “When we recognize that he’s tired, (we’ll) just try to tell him not to be.”
The Spiders’ short bench, and recent struggles, don’t figure to impact the Rams’ approach.
“Absolutely not. It’s the Richmond game,” Smart said of the crosstown rivals. “Those are the guys on our team that were here last year, or previous years. They know that we went there last year and didn’t get it done, didn’t finish the job. The results last week have no bearing on our motivation.”
He hopes to be able to do it again, and to honor Lindsay with a senior night stunner.
“We want to get this one for him,” Anthony said, “and make sure we handle business Thursday night.”