Since the calendar flipped to March – the month of madness as college basketball fans have come to know – VCU beckoned a game like this.
A bare-knuckle brawl, one not for the faint of heart, a true barnburner was what the Rams needed.
Saturday’s 32-point dismantling of Butler, to much awe and shock, didn’t do the trick.
Keeping in true March fashion, with the Atlantic 10 Tournament right around the corner, VCU needed Wednesday night’s 93-82 win over Richmond to get the blood pumping.
What this game turned out to be though, was the addition of another nail-biter to a storied rivalry that’s been tuned up ever since the two teams became conference foes this season.
“It sure has been ratcheted up a level,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said before comparing the rivalry to Old Dominion in the Colonial Athletic Association.
There was a lot on the mind for VCU leading into the season’s final game at the Siegel Center.
There was Senior Night to honor Darius Theus, Troy Daniels and David Hinton – a trio of seniors that won 108 games in their time at VCU, which ties Bradford Burgess for most in the school’s history.
There was the risk of a letdown after a knockout of epic proportions of Butler, which had beaten teams like Gonzaga and Indiana.
Then, of course, there was the real follow-up. Following up an excruciating loss to Richmond on Jan. 24 when the Rams led by seven with 42 seconds left, but fell apart minutes later in a 12-point overtime loss.
“We knew that wasn’t going to happen tonight,” VCU guard Rob Brandenberg said. “No way.”
That meeting was a classic, that, if you tear it down piece by piece could ultimately be deemed a monumental collapse by VCU.
Wednesday night had all the makings of a classic up until the final two minutes of the game when the Rams ran away with it.
VCU and Richmond traded punches for 38 minutes, generating nine ties and 10 lead changes.
The speedy charge of Spiders guard Kendall Anthony supported by experienced veterans Cedrick Lindsay and Darrien Brothers in the backcourt helped Richmond edge the ball up court.
But a couple of clutch baskets by sophomore Treveon Graham, coupled with five icy free throws from Briante Weber sealed the deal for VCU, which grabbed a share of first place in the Atlantic 10 with St. Louis.
“That’s what college basketball is all about,” Richmond head coach Chris Mooney said. “A great rivalry, great teams.”
On paper, Richmond and VCU don’t appear evenly matched. Statistically one of the only things the Spiders do better is shoot the 3-pointer more efficiently.
But when they’re on the same court at the same time, at least this season, it’s been the epitome of our reasoning for loving college basketball.
VCU and Richmond are two crosstown rivals that have played a pair of games this year with scores that don’t properly represent the battle that occurred in either game.
There’s a mutual respect between the benches of VCU and Richmond that extends beyond the typical fan-to-fan trash talk.
All night Mooney had pleaded with the referees on his team’s front, but chose not to comment in the postgame press conference because he said he has too much respect for VCU.
Before, Lindsay extended a pat on the back to the seniors Theus and Daniels before they walked off the court in the final seconds of the game.
“I think tonight was a grind,” Theus said. “Which just shows how good of a team Richmond was.”
There’s always the possibility of a third meeting at the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Brooklyn, and if it’s a charm, who knows what we could be in for.
For Mooney, he spoke on it from a fans perspective, saying “I hope we play again in Brooklyn.”
Said Smart: “Who knows maybe we’ll play them a third time.”