The VCU Rams knocked off the Richmond Spiders 70-67 in the Quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Championship at Barclays Center on Friday afternoon.
VCU: Melvin Johnson – 23 points on 7-for-14 from the field, 5-9 on threes, and an assist. JeQuan Lewis – 10 points on 3-for-9 shooting, 1-2 on threes, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists. Treveon Graham – 9 points (2-11 FG, 0-3 on threes) and 8 rebounds.
Richmond: Kendall Anthony – 26 points on 12-for-16 shooting, 2-2 on threes, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds. TJ Cline – 14 points on 6-for-13 from the field, 4 rebounds, and 1 assist. Terry Allen – 12 points on 6-for-9 from the field, 0-2 on threes, and 4 rebounds.
Turning point of the game: Richmond held a 60-55 lead with 3:16 remaining. Mo Alie-Cox responded with a layup with 3:01 left. JaQuan Lewis hit a couple of free throws to make it 60-59 with 2:09 remaining, and VCU followed that up by forcing a turnover. On VCU’s ensuing possession, Treveon Graham missed a layup, they got the rebound, Graham missed a jumper, and they got yet another rebound, and they found Doug Brooks for a three with 1:37 left to make it 62-60 VCU. Alie-Cox followed that up with a three-point play to make it 65-62 with 1:07 remaining. Melvin Johnson hit four free throws in the final 14 seconds, and JeQuan Lewis hit one with a second left to make it 70-67, and he missed the second free throw to kill the clock.
Up next for VCU: Davidson in the semifinals on Saturday at 1:30 pm
VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart: “That was another great basketball game between VCU and Richmond. I think these games are obviously really exciting for the fans and everyone that watches. But that win was really big for us because we’ve had some close games that we have not been able to finish and pull out. So to be able to win a close game means a lot. I’m really happy for our guys and for our fans because I know how much they wanted to win this game.”
Q. What changed in your estimation from 48-40 Richmond till the end?
COACH SMART: Well, I think we were able to get a little bit more aggressive on the offensive end, and get in the paint. We changed our scheme a little bit. Went to more of a dribble, drive type offense, if you will, where we were just trying to drive off of one another, get to multiple drives.
And we were able to put the ball in the basket a little bit better. We got off to a really slow start through the second half, and then the stops we were able to get in the latter part of the game, that allowed us to get a slight lead and then hold onto it.
Q. Talk about Mo on the offensive glass, and your team has 11 offensive rebounds in the game.
COACH SMART: Mo is one of my favorite players that I’ve ever coached. His future is really, really bright as a player. Unfortunately he’s really hard on himself. So if a play doesn’t go his way, he gets so upset with himself.
So we are just trying to get him to focus on, as we say, choose to see the good. And when there’s a lot of good to see in Mo, on and off the court. He gave us a big lift.
I kept thinking, well, I need to get him a break because he looked like he was fatigued out there. But he just couldn’t do that because Richmond is so good at making you pay when he’s off the floor, when Tre is off the floor.
I have to take my hat off to Richmond. We played them three times obviously this year. I think they are a terrific basketball team. And Kendall Anthony is one of the best competitors I’ve ever been around. I’ve been coaching for 16 years, and he’s terrific. I’m just really glad that we don’t have to play against him ever again because this is the ninth time we’ve played him, and I think eight out of the nine times, he’s played phenomenal. Just so impressed with him and their whole team. I think they have a really well rounded team and Coach Mooney and his staff have done a terrific job.
Q. What is different with Melvin right now?
COACH SMART: I think he’s playing with a clear head. You know, Mel had a great start to the year, but then after that, he’s had some ups and downs. He’s done some stuff off the court that maybe you guys might not know about and all those things maybe combined to cloud his head up at times over the course of the past couple months.
He hasn’t played terrible. I mean, he’s averaged 12 points a game for us and he’s had some games; he’s really, really been a terrific player. But he hasn’t been as consistent as he wants to be.
But these last couple games, he’s playing much more with a clear head. I don’t know exactly why; maybe it’s coming off the bench. Maybe it’s because he finally got to the point where he said, forget all those other things, let me just do what I can do to help my team, and he’s definitely helping his team.
VCU Guard MELVIN JOHNSON on finding Doug Brooks for that late three-pointer: “I pat myself on the back for that one honestly (laughter) I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I think I came a long way because I was a knucklehead. And with that offensive rebound, I would have tried to hit a home run and shoot it myself.
“But I saw we were outnumbered. I saw Deion Taylor coming and I just one more pass; and I had a lot of trust in Doug. So I thought to Doug I was actually proud of myself; at the same time I was proud of him because that was a big shot.”
MELVIN JOHNSON on the matchup with Davidson: “I think our legs are not going to be a factor because they just humiliated (ph) us on ESPN a week ago. I think this is where we mature and say we don’t care about how our bodies feel. This is just one of those games you have to step up as a competitor. That’s a great team, so I feel it’s going to be a good game.”