Richmond, VA (SportsNetwork.com) - The 22nd-ranked Rams of Virginia Commonwealth can ill-afford a slip-up this late in the season, as they tangle with local rival Richmond in an Atlantic 10 Conference clash at the Robins Center on Wednesday night.
At 11-3 in the A-10, VCU is tied with Rhode Island for first place with four games left to play. The Rams, who are 21-6 overall, have won three in a row following losses in two of their previous three, and they are seeking their ninth win in 11 chances on enemy hardwood. VCU's most recent triumph came in a 78-72 decision at home against Massachusetts last Saturday.
Richmond is enjoying a modest run of its own, the team having won back-to-back bouts against St. Bonaventure (71-56) and George Washington (56-48) in the last week. The Spiders, who are 15-12 overall and 8-6 in conference, have been victorious in 12 of their 15 homes games this season, including six of their last seven.
These two long-time rivals met on VCU's home court on Jan. 31, and it was Richmond that prevailed in a 64-55 upset. The Spiders got impressive individual performances from Kendall Anthony (22 points, six assists), Terry Allen (15 points, seven rebounds) and Trey Davis (10 points). The Rams were led by Treveon Graham (18 points, seven rebounds), but they really struggled from 3-point range (3-of-20), while being beaten badly on the boards (39-27).
As a result, VCU's lead in the all-time series now sits at 45-27.
VCU was involved in a tight game with visiting UMass last weekend, but used a 20-15 edge in points at the foul line, coupled with a 24-15 advantage in points beyond the arc to earn the victory. Graham hit for 24 points, thank to three treys and a 11-of-13 showing at the charity stripe, and he was joined in double figures by Jequan Lewis with 15 points, Mo Alie-Cox with 12 and Melvin Johnson with 10. Graham actually turned in a double-double as he pulled down 10 boards for the Rams, who lost the rebounding battle by a 39-30 margin. Thankfully, VCU forced 19 turnovers, off which it scored 24 points.
Graham is among the top scorers in the A-10 this season, as he nets 16.3 ppg on the strength of his 40.7 percent effort from 3-point range. Johnson generates 12.8 ppg as the only other player averaging double figures for a squad that puts up 73.9 ppg despite being one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the conference at just 63.9 percent. The Rams are a middle-of-the- pack club in terms of overall shooting (.430), but they are on the upswing when it comes to long-range accuracy (.347). With Alie-Cox (2.1 bpg) leading the way, VCU ranks fourth in the league in blocked shots, and while the team owns a conference-best +6.7 turnover margin, its top thief, Briante Weber (3.9 spg) is out for the season.
For the fourth time this season, Richmond held an opponent below 50 points as it beat George Washington over the weekend. TJ Cline drained four treys in tallying 16 points to pace the Spiders, ShanwDre' Jones added 14 points off the bench, and Allen logged a double-double consisting of 12 points and 10 rebounds. Richmond shot just 38.9 percent from the floor, missing the mark on 16 of its 22 3-point attempts, and went only 8-of-14 at the free-throw line, but the Colonials went just 2-of-10 from distance, shot 39 percent from the field overall and turned the ball over 14 times. By comparison, the Spiders were guilty of only six miscues.
With an average yield of 60.8 ppg, Richmond ranks second in the Atlantic 10 in scoring defense, and they also sit second in the league in turnover margin at +3.6. The Spiders also rank No. 2 in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3), and they produce 65.6 ppg in hitting their field goals at a 45.7 percent clip, which includes a 34.4 percent performance out on the perimeter. Anthony leads the way on offense with his 16.3 ppg, while a pair of 50 percent shooters in Allen (12.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Cline (11.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg) sit in double figures as well. Jones rounds out that group with 10.0 ppg. UR has certainly had its share of problem corralling loose balls this season, as it ranks last in the league in rebounding margin (-5.3).