It took two unbelievably bizarre overtime periods, but Richmond completed its first season-sweep of #22 VCU since 2001 with a 67-63 victory in the Robins Center on Wednesday night.
Most games fit a neat narrative that can be easily documented in an article starting with the turning point and then working through the details. After 35 minutes, Richmond starting 5-of-7 from 3-point range and with 8 assists on 9 field goals would have made for a catching lede. Or the Spiders’ 10-0 run the first half and 11-2 run in the second half would have been a decent place to start.
But with 33 seconds remaining in regulation, this game went off script. What resulted was 11 minutes of insane basketball primed by VCU overcoming a 16-point deficit in the second half. Melvin Johnson was the spark, and his 3-pointer the explosion that bent the arc of the narrative into a contorted question mark.
With 33 seconds remaining, he hit a no-hesitation 3-pointer despite starting the game 0-of-3 from 3-point range including two embarrassing airballs. VCU was 1-of-14 from range at that point. Two seconds later, Mo Alie-Cox previewed what could be a career as an NFL tight end with a pirouetting mid-court steal off of an inbounds pass1. Mirroring the 35 minutes of poor decision-making by the Rams to start the game, Treveon Graham forced a 3-pointer with 20 seconds remaining and VCU’s comeback looked derailed.
VCU immediately fouled Kendall Anthony and hope evaporated as the HAVOC!-defying senior guard who shoots 81% on free-throws stepped to the charity stripe. Clank. Clank.
Anthony moved to an unpredictable 0-of-4 on free-throws for the evening. JeQuan Lewis responded with a missed jumper with 7 seconds remaining but Richmond fumbled the ball and VCU would get one more look. Treveon Graham, who finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds, immediately responded with a step-back 3-pointer from the coach’s box where Shaka Smart typically prowls the sideline. Nothin’ but net.
But ShawnDre’ Jones who finished with 22 points (6-10 3PFG) and 4 steals took it coast-to-coast and chucked up an off-balance prayer from 15 feet. The ball hit the rim and bounced 3-feet in the air twice before defying physics, freezing time in the Robins Center, and missing. Overtime.
Richmond quickly took the lead in the first overtime but VCU fought back and finally took control on a Mo Alie-Cox dunk after trailing for the first 44 minutes of the game. With a 3-point lead and Richmond in the double-bonus with 4 seconds remaining, VCU decided to foul. Jones drained the first free-throw and intentionally missed the second free-throw. Richmond, who ranks 339th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, ended up forcing a VCU fumble out of bounds instigating the unthinkable.
VCU decided to defend the inbound pass leaving little protection at the rim. Richmond’s TJ Cline slipped to the basket and connected on an uncontested layup as time expired. Double overtime.
Two controversial calls headlined the final period. With 1:52 remaining, Treveon Graham connected on an and-1 that would have tied the game at 62, but the referees called it a charge. A series of free-throws and a smooth Doug Brooks steal appeared to eliminate the consequences of the call. With a 3-point lead and VCU in the double-bonus with 8 seconds remaining, Richmond decided to foul. Graham connected on the first free-throw and missed the second. In the ensuing scrum, VCU emerged with a jump ball and chance to win the game. Treveon Graham drove the lane and drew some contact but the shot was blocked by Deion Taylor. Game over.
For the second time this season, Coach Mooney and the Spiders executed a well-conceived plan for slowing down HAVOC! and forcing VCU to play offense in the half-court. In both games, VCU scored 0.85 points per possession or less which is well below their adjusted season average of 108.4 points per possession.
This rivalry is alive and thriving, and is probably at its best place ever. Hopefully the two teams will rematch in Brooklyn, but for now VCU needs to figure out how to get more than JeQuan Lewis (15 points and 8 rebounds) and Treveon Graham involved on offense. VCU’s other three starters combined for just 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting. The bench didn’t offer much more on a night when Justin Tillman was out with a shoulder injury and Michael Gilmore was gone dealing with a family matter.
VCU still has plenty of moments to seize moving forward. Their best is often times preceded by struggle, but Wednesday was a missed opportunity to add to their resume, take sole possession of first place in the Atlantic 10, and enjoy the fruits of improvement.
To foul, or not to foul
Wednesday further-ignites the ever-contentious debate on whether to foul or not in the closing seconds when ahead by 3-points. Ken Pomeroy has a good primer on the subject.
In regulation, Richmond elected to not foul and it did not work. In the first overtime, VCU fouled and it was an abject failure. In the second overtime, Richmond fouled and it failed its objective but the Spiders ended up with the W. Wednesday doesn’t add further clarity to the issue, but at the least it adds three data points which is uncommon.
For fans of VCU, Wednesday was a missed opportunity to take sole possession of first place in the conference on the heels of losses by Dayton and Rhode Island. For fans of the Atlantic 10, Wednesday set the scene for an entertaining and furious sprint to the finish line. With three games remaining in conference play, Davidson, Dayton, Rhode Island, and VCU are all tied at 11-4 with plenty of head-to-head bouts remaining. The finish promises to be exhilarating and this is still only a preface to the battle that will follow in Brooklyn.
- VCU is 6-of-39 (.154) from 3-point against Richmond this season.
- VCU finished with 6 assists on 19 field goals. Richmond finished with 19 assists on 24 field goals.
- Treveon Graham and JeQuan Lewis combined for 40 of VCU’s points but on 11-of-35 shooting while posting 8 turnovers.
- Richmond finished 9-of-23 (.391) from 3-point range and 10-of-20 (.500) from the free-throw stripe.
- Wednesday was Treveon Graham’s 15th career double-double.
VCU hosts Dayton (21-6, 11-4) on Saturday at 2:00 PM. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
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Dallas Cowboys’ tight end Jason Witten, a friend of VCU assistant coach Mike Morrell, was in attendance.