The Collegian
Monday, April 15, 2024

Near-capacity crowd watches Richmond win thriller over GW

Six days and one easy win since entering the Associated Press Top 25, Richmond found itself in a tight game against George Washington University. The Spiders acted the part of a Top-25 team and was able to survive an upset bid by the Colonials and won 74-70, in front of 9,025 Saturday night at the Robins Center.

Junior Kevin Anderson led the way with 24 points and also had seven assists. Anderson scored or assisted all of Richmond's last five baskets, which led to some lofty praise from GW coach Karl Hobbs.

"Kevin Anderson is the best player in the world," Hobbs said. "I want to make that clear. I'm being a little bit sarcastic, a little bit of a joke."

Hobbs then became serious in his praise for Anderson: "I thought he was without question, the difference in the game. He made every big play. He made every big shot. If he didn't score, he was the guy giving the assist."

Anderson was more humble in his assessment of his play. He gave credit to the team's defense, which stole the ball from GW six times during the second half, for getting him more opportunities.

Junior Kevin Smith was responsible for four of those second-half steals. His steals led to four Richmond points, including an electrifying dunk that brought the largest Robins Center crowd since 2002 to its feet.

"His energy is great," Richmond coach Chris Mooney said. "His knowledge of the game is great. He just played a tremendous game."

Smith's biggest steal was with 55 seconds remaining and Richmond holding a two-point lead. He forced an errant pass by GW sophomore Tony Taylor and the ball went out of bounds. Anderson was fouled right after he got the inbounds pass and hit both free throws to give Richmond a 72-68 lead.

It was the second meeting between these Atlantic 10 Conference rivals. Like the first game, a 62-57 win for Richmond at George Washington, this game was a back-and-forth contest.

The game was tied 10 times, and as late as with 2:35 remaining. The lead changed 15 times, 12 of which came during the second half.

Richmond started the game strong, and led by as many as nine -- the game's largest lead -- with just less than 12 minutes during the first half. At the 11-minute mark and with a seven-point lead, Richmond was shooting 40 percent from the floor.

But Richmond would make only one more basket, a 3-pointer by junior Justin Harper, as the Colonials showed they would not be intimidated by the Spiders.

The Colonials capitalized on their ability to drive toward the basket and get easy layups and put-backs. George Washington outscored Richmond 20-2 from within the lane during the first half.

"They kind of lull you to sleep offensively with the way they swing the ball around the perimeter," senior Ryan Butler said. "And then, all of a sudden, they'll drive baseline or they'll drive middle. We prepared for it about it all week, but we still got lulled to sleep a little bit."

The team made adjustments at halftime and limited the Colonials to only 12 points from within the lane. During the final 20 minutes, Richmond scored 22 from inside the lane.

Richmond had to withstand the loss of its second leading scorer, senior David Gonzalvez, when he picked up his third and fourth personal fouls during a span of six seconds. During the final 10:33 of the game, Gonzalvez, who scored 10 points, played only the final 3:15.

Butler played a critical role in Richmond's ability to withstand the loss of Gonzalvez. Butler, who had 17 points for the game, blocked a shot by Taylor with 1:11 left in the game and Richmond holding on to a 70-68 lead.

Butler was 6-11 from the field, including 4-8 from beyond the 3-point line. He scored six of the team's first 13 points and a pair of his shots gave Richmond a lead during the second half. His 3-pointer won the game for Richmond the last time these two teams met on Jan. 23. Butler gave credit to his teammates for giving him the confidence to make the big shots.

Said Butler: "They give me the confidence by throwing me the ball. A lot of times, [defenses] are focusing on [Anderson and Gonzalvez] penetrating, and they throw it out to me. I think it's my job to make shots for them so they have to be aware of me and help Kevin continue to do what he does, get in the lane."

The win improves Richmond's chance of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004. Although Richmond is in good shape to make it if the season ended right now, Mooney is unsure of what it will take at the end of the season.

"I wish the [selection] committee would call and tell us," Mooney said. "I don't think we need to do anything magical."

Richmond continues to sit atop the A-10 standings with the win. The Spiders are now 11-2 in conference and 22-6 overall. They are a half-game ahead of Xavier University for first place.

That makes Richmond's next game, at Xavier on Feb. 28, a big game for Mooney.

"For us to be going to Xavier in what likely will be a battle of two first-place teams -- I don't know who Xavier plays on Wednesday -- on national television with three games to go, tha's great. That's where we want to be. We're going to embrace that."

That game will be played at 1 p.m. in Cincinnati, Ohio, and televised on ESPN2.

Contact staff writer Andrew Prezioso at andrew.prezioso@richmond.edu

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