In a packed Robins Center on Friday night, the Richmond Spiders took about 20 minutes to find themselves.
The Spiders won their season opener against Radford 64-46. The score was lopsided by the end, but there were obvious jitters in the first half for both teams, and the game wasn’t out of hand until the second half.
Senior point guard Kendall Anthony took a backseat in the first half, and his teammates led the way while he found his stride. Anthony scored just two points in the first half, both on free throws, but the Spiders led 29-22 at halftime nonetheless.
“I had a slow start in the first half,” Anthony said. “My teammates they just really picked me up and told me it was going to be all right.”
The lead could be attributed to suffocating defense, as Richmond held the Highlanders to just 25 percent shooting in the first half. Center Alonzo Nelson-Ododa was the best player on the floor during the first twenty minutes, as he blocked four shots, scored six points and had two steals. He set the tone for the defense early, blocking two of Radford’s first five shots.
Anthony praised Ododa for his performance in the opener. “Alonzo plays great defense all the time, he’s a great shot blocker,” he said. “He protects the rim better than anyone in the country.” This comment drew a surprised look from Ododa.
Head coach Chris Mooney was pleased with his defense on Friday. “I feel that we could be a great defensive team this year, and tonight’s a good start to that,” he said. “Alonzo, he’s such a difference-maker.” Mooney also credited Ododa for energizing the team and changing the mindset of the Highlanders.
After the tough defensive first half, Anthony shook the nerves and led the way for the Spiders in the second half. He made six of his eight field goal attempts and scored 16 second-half points.
It looked as if Anthony flipped a switch at halftime, because he came out visibly more comfortable and aggressive offensively in the second half. “I think I just had to focus more,” Anthony said. “The first half didn’t go my way, so I had to put that behind me and get ready for the second half.”
Mooney spoke to Anthony at halftime. “He wasn’t poised enough in the first half, and I think sometimes not being poised can show up as a lack of aggression,” Mooney said. “We talked about it … I just thought he could show a little bit more poise, a little bit more composure. He was great in the second half.”
Two other players scored in double digits for the Spiders. Forward Terry Allen scored 13 and grabbed nine rebounds, and transfer center T.J. Cline scored 11 points in just 12 minutes of play in his first game at Richmond.
Mooney was satisfied with Cline’s performance. “He scores very well around the basket, he shoots threes,” he said. “He’s going to play a lot more, because he gives us a little bit different look on offense. He’s going to be very valuable for us.”
The only true problem for the Spiders throughout the game was offensive rebounding. Radford grabbed 16 offensive rebounds, which dwarfed Richmond’s four. This deficit allowed the Highlanders to take nine more shots than the Spiders during the game.
The Spiders travel to Norfolk, Virginia, on Tuesday to take on the Old Dominion Monarchs.
Contact Charlie Broaddus at email@example.com