BOSTON – Richmond is closing out a promising non-conference run, with their 70-66 win at Northeastern on Tuesday being the latest part of that. What is most promising of all is a couple of things in how they won, especially since they didn’t play their best in the category they have been the strongest all year.
The Spiders have been a defense-driven team all season long, and that’s never a bad thing. The defense is good enough to potentially carry this team far in the Atlantic 10 as they are the top defensive team in the conference. Opponents shoot below 40 percent from the field against them, and they force well over 15 turnovers a night.
Where the Spiders haven’t been as good is at the offensive end. They came into Tuesday’s game shooting nearly 44 percent, but that’s a good leap from earlier in the season. Tuesday continued that as they shoot 55.1 percent from the field against Northeastern, including 9-16 from long range. The latter has been an area of much struggle, as they came in shooting 28.2 percent from long range on the season. It helped as they allowed the Huskies to shoot 44 percent from the field.
“Traditionally, we’ve been a strong three-point shooting team,” said head coach Chris Mooney. “We have guys who we think can shoot, and are here partly because they can shoot. It’s a great thing to see for us. The one thing we can control is try to take good shots, and I think we’ve done that even though we haven’t shot well, and today it showed up for us.”
The hope for this team is that the offense comes around, and there are signs it is starting to. Tuesday marked the third time in four games where they have shot at least 49 percent from the field. It helped that they started hot, making eight of their first 11 and dominating inside as Derrick Williams and Terry Allen had their way, combining for most of their 20 points in the first half as they built a 14-point lead in the first half.
Williams seemed to really get the attack going. One of just two seniors on the team, the 6’6″, 275-pound forward beat Northeastern up the floor twice for baskets, once on the break and another with a basket on the post before Northeastern was really set. He also hit two shots from long range and had two assists.
“I thought he made a shot, which always gives you confidence, but he just moved so well,” Mooney said of Williams. “When that’s on display, really positive things happen, and I think that was the case today.”
In all, Mooney thinks the offense has progressed well, and so has the team. Tuesday showed it with a season high shooting percentage, but how they got there was important as well. He felt like they ran it well, adjusted to defensive changes Northeastern made about as well as they could, and the numbers reflected it.
Besides the offense coming alive, the Spiders responded like a veteran team late in the game. After Northeastern scored the game’s first three points, Richmond led until the Huskies tied the game at 64 with 2:07 left. From that point on, the Spiders took over at both ends. The only blemish was missing four of six free throws in the final seconds, making them sweat just a little more.
“I think we zeroed in and handled the pressure, handled the switching defense, we were calm,” said Mooney. “We probably scored a couple of baskets with less than five seconds on the shot clock, we got good shots.”
Cedrick Lindsay, the senior leader, hit a runner in traffic to put them up 66-64, then banked one off the glass on the right side to make it a two-possession game in the final minute. He had 18 points to lead the way and continues to lead in scoring, but this was one more example of how he’s been a big leader for this team. He turned the ball over four times with two assists, but he came up big when it mattered most.
Richmond has one non-conference game left, a trip to Florida on Saturday. They are now 3-1 in true road games this season, which bodes well in part because their first two conference games are on the road. The offense coming alive and the team responding big in a close game late are both very encouraging signs for them.
The Atlantic 10 has had a nice couple of months of non-conference play overall. Richmond isn’t going to be the first team mentioned in that conversation, as UMass has had the best couple of months and VCU and Saint Louis look to be among the best teams as expected. George Washington has been the biggest pleasant surprise. Richmond has been solid and has developed over this time, and the Spiders are shaping up to be a factor in Atlantic 10 play starting in a week.