Early season tournaments gave Richmond the opportunity to play high-quality teams in previous years, such as the University of Missouri and Purdue University. This year, it's the University of Illinois and possibly Rutgers University.
But along with those top teams, Richmond is also forced to play lower competition, such as Sacred Heart, a team whose RPI was 205 entering Saturday. Take away a 10-minute stretch to end the first half and that gap in talent was evident in Richmond's 83-58 victory Saturday evening.
Once again, junior guard Darien Brothers had a big first half to give Richmond (3-1) a big lead. He made his first shot, a three pointer, and scored half of Richmond's first 24 points. When he subbed out for the first time eight minutes into the game, the Spiders had a 24-5 lead and it looked ready to cruise throughout the game.
It was about that time that the Pioneers switched from their man-to-man defense to a zone. That new defensive alignment threw off Richmond's offensive rhythm and Sacred Heart started chipping away at the lead.
It was the first time this year that Richmond has faced a zone, and it showed, sophomore point guard Cedrick Lindsay said.
"We had a couple people out of place," he said. "We sometimes didn't have a man in the middle against the zone. It kind of didn't really open up anything, have a man for a release for you to pass the ball to."
When Brothers checked back in after his three-minute rest, the lead was cut down to a not-so-comfortable 11 points. The teams stayed about that far away from each other, until another late run by Sacred Heart put it within six with five seconds left in the half.
With the half seemingly over, Brothers caught the inbounds pass and was able to take about a 60-foot shoot unimpeded. His shot was banked in and sent the Spiders to the half with a nine-point lead.
That shot tied his career high in points, 17. Like Thursday's game against Hampton, Brothers was Richmond's best offensive threat in the first half.
"I've been in his ear," senior forward Darrius Garrett said of Brothers. "I've been telling him, 'I know you can shoot.' I see him shoot every day [in practice]. He's one of the best shooters I've seen since I started playing in high school."
Although Brothers would score just two more points in the game, he still played an important role. All three of his steals came during the first half, but he did assist on a pair of baskets during the second and played solid defense.
The balanced game prompted Richmond coach Chris Mooney to say that it was probably Brothers' best game at Richmond.
"You can just see his talent and how good he is and how much he's improved and worked on his game," Mooney said.
Freshman guard Kendall Anthony picked up the scoring impetus during the second half, scoring all 18 of his points then. Normally a slasher who could score on lay ups or free throws, Anthony showed a new dimension to his game: the three-point shot.
Anthony entered Saturday's game with only three three pointers in his brief career. He more than doubled that number, making four out of nine.
Now the tougher part of the Cancun Challenge awaits Richmond in Mexico. It will meet the University of Illinois Tuesday and then either Rutgers University or Illinois State University the following day.
Although the talent level of Hampton and Sacred Heart do not match up to Illinois', the chance to play those first two teams helped Mooney get his players into a rotation and the players to start to find their roles.
"I think they start to realize when they do something well, like rebound or defend, how much of an impact it has on the team," Mooney said. "You can only get that when you're competing and playing games against other teams."
Game Notes: Garrett blocked six shots... Richmond had a 36-19 edge in points from reserves, led by Anthony's 18... Sophomore Derrick Williams had a double-double, 14 points and 11 rebounds... Josh Duinker had 11 points, giving him double figures in scoring in consecutive games.
Contact staff writer Andrew Prezioso at firstname.lastname@example.org