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STEVE DeSHAZO: Rams’ ‘Havoc’ is no match for Spiders’ mayhem

RICHMOND—At the end of nearly every game VCU plays, one of the teams almost always looks exhausted. Players’ legs get heavy, and fatigue usually leads to physical and mental mistakes.

That was the case Thursday night against Richmond at the Robins Center. The big surprise was that it was the 19th-ranked Rams who flinched, and it was the Spiders who exploited the opportunity to earn a stunning 86–74 victory, ending VCU’s 13-game winning streak.

Trailing by seven with 37.7 seconds left in regulation, “We were huddling, and we were saying, ‘They’re letting us have this game,’” said senior guard Darien Brothers, whose NBA-range 3-pointer forced the extra period. “Kendall [Anthony] said, ‘We’re gonna win this game.’ We made some stops, and luckily, we made some good shots.”

With some help from their guests, the Spiders gave the rest of the Atlantic 10 an easier-said-than-done template of how to beat VCU.

You need solid veteran guard play to survive the Rams’ trademark “Havoc” defense. Richmond used two point guards together for stretches of the game and committed just 13 turnovers in 45 minutes, eight fewer than VCU usually forces in 40 minutes.

You need to take advantage of the times when you do break VCU’s constant press. After scoring a mere four points in a 10-minute span of the second half, the Spiders (13–7) scored 13 in the final 37.7 seconds of regulation. Anthony made one 3-pointer after sinking all three free throws when the Rams’ Troy Daniels foolishly fouled him on a long-distance attempt.

And you need some luck. VCU twice missed the back end of two-shot fouls, then chose not to give a foul while leading by three in the final 12 seconds. Instead, the Rams gave Brothers—whose 51 percent rate on 3-pointers ranks second in the nation—a chance to burn them. And he did.

“The relentlessness of their press really puts you on your heels,” Richmond coach Chris Mooney said. “They want to make you get tired. But we hung in there.”

But the most surprising aspect was that the Spiders essentially beat the Rams at their own game—and did so without their second-leading scorer, forward Derrick Williams, who is nursing an ankle injury.

Richmond runs a variation of the patient offense Mooney learned while playing at Princeton. But his team didn’t slow down (or back down) often Thursday night. And in overtime, they were the fresher (and more confident) team.

“People just look at turnovers, like that’s the only measure of defense,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said. “But Richmond took some very quick shots—shots that we hopefully look for other teams to take. They made some, but they missed some, too. We just didn’t make the free throws we needed to down the stretch, and it came down to not executing late-game situations.”

The Spiders definitely did.

Thursday night’s edition of the “Black and Blue Classic” may have reinvigorated a rivalry that had been largely ceremonial for the past dozen years, after the Spiders bolted the Colonial Athletic Association for the Atlantic 10. But this year, the Rams also joined the A–10, making this an annual home-and-home affair. (The rematch comes March 6 at VCU’s Siegel Center.)

With their 2011 Final Four run still fresh in many people’s minds and the catchy name for their defense, the Rams have dominated the headlines, not only in the capital city, but all over the commonwealth. Thursday’s result doesn’t completely change that, but it should make things much more interesting (and fun).

“This definitely means a lot, especially after losing to them last year,” Brothers said. “I guess this gives us bragging rights for a little while.”

Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443

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