BOSTON — When Richmond left the Colonial Athletic Association for the Atlantic 10 in 2001, it opened the door for America East teams like Northeastern to flee for the warmer waters of the CAA. The two schools met in historic Matthews Arena for both teams’ final games of 2013 on Tuesday afternoon.
The matchup was a clash of playing styles, with Richmond being paced by its quick and dynamic scoring guards in Cedrick Lindsay and Kendall Anthony while Northeastern likes to play through its bigs in Scott Eatherton and Reggie Spencer. Fortunately for head coach Chris Mooney’s club, the Spiders perimeter attack prevailed and managed to escape the bitter New England cold with a 70-66 victory.
"I have a ton of respect for Northeastern and their program and I know to get a win here in their building is big for us and we’ll go from there," Richmond head coach Chris Mooney said.
Lindsay and Anthony led the way with 18 and 15 points, respectively, and the entire Richmond squad was lights out from deep.
"Traditionally we’ve been a strong three-point shooting team, but this year we’ve probably only hit in the high 20-percent, which is really unusual for us," Mooney said. The Spiders entered the New Year’s Eve contest shooting just 28.2 percent from three as a team, with Anthony being the only regular rotation player shooting above 30 percent. Richmond shot 9-16 from downtown against the Northeastern. "We have guys that we think can shoot and are here partly because we think they can shoot, so it’s a great thing to see. The one thing we can control is to try to take good shots and I think we’ve done that well and today it showed for us."
After senior forward Derrick Williams knocked down his two attempts from outside early in the first half, Mooney positioned the 275-pounder in the right corner to spread Northeastern’s 3-2 zone to allow his other athletic big men, like Alonzo Nelson-Ododa and Terry Allen, to attack Scott Eatherton down low. Williams did his own dirty work inside for 12 first-half points to lead the Spiders to a 40-28 lead at intermission.
"I think he really moved. He just moves so well," Mooney said. "I think that’s probably the biggest surprise when you see him because he’s so big and physical and powerful. When that’s on display, really positive things happen. We’re fortunate to have versatile frontcourt players who can step outside, make a three and make some decisions."
Eatherton, who entered the contest tied for the NCAA-lead in double-doubles on the season, did not look in rhythm in the first half, despite entering the locker room 7 points and 3 rebounds. When the Huskies came out of the half, the entire team played with more energy and stepped up their defensive intensity. Eatherton was key, scoring 15 points and grabbing 8 rebounds in the second period.
"I don’t know that anybody could have predicted the type of productivity that he’s had, but if you look at his last year at St. Francis, he was incredibly efficient and he was the most improved player in their league," Northeastern head coach Bill Coen said of the redshirt-junior. "Usually with big guys, once they start to get it, they really can take off. As well as he’s played, I think he has another level in his game. That’s a scary thought."
Eatherton and Spencer have given their all in many Northeastern losses this season. Coen’s guard play, however, has been very inconsistent outside of sophomore David Walker, with one or two other guards randomly contributing. Demetrius Pollard, who was expected to be a steady piece alongside Walker this season, was a main piece in Northeastern forging a strong second-half comeback Tuesday.
"We need Demetrius to play well for us," Coen said. "He’s got a lot of confidence and he’s probably the most experienced of any of the other guys, so we need a solid effort from him night in and night out to be competitive."
Pollard finished with 19 points and hit 3-5 from deep. Junior guard Marco Banegas-Flores also played big minutes off the bench for Northeastern, scoring 8 points and dishing a career-high six assists.
Banegas-Flores tied the game for the first time since the 18:26 minute-mark with two free-throws and 2:07 remaining in the game. Then after Lindsay scooped in a layup, Coen called timeout with the ball under Richmond’s basket for a chance to tie the game with 1:32 remaining. After Northeastern struggled to get the ball in bounds, Coen burned another timeout. Immediately out of the huddle, Eatherton turned the ball over and Lindsay went down the other end and dropped another layup home to all but seal the deal for Richmond.
"We made some shots but we also got some baskets in transition and converted some turnovers into points for us," Mooney said.
Both teams will head down south to face two tough SEC schools on Saturday. Richmond will take on Florida and Northeastern will meet Vanderbilt.