Less than a minute remained in Sunday’s Atlantic 10 final at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. That the game’s result seemed a foregone conclusion didn’t stop the Dayton Flyers’ defense from swarming like bees in a field of clover.
There was Richmond’s Kevin Anderson spinning from the defense with the ball seemingly an extension of his arm. He bobbed. He weaved. He ducked. He juked, and the Flyers closed in around him appearing to set a trap when one of the UD players finally tipped the ball from Anderson.
For an instant the senior point guard looked vulnerable as he fell to the hardwood securing possession of the orange globe. Then the ball came out of the tangle of arms and legs and bodies with perfect pace into the hands of teammate Justin Harper who made one dribble and flushed home a basket.
Kevin Anderson, laying flat on his back with opponents closing in, did what he has done so many times in the past: give the ball to a scorer in a spot where that teammate can score.
It was that simple.
There was no surprise that Anderson received the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Despite being the object of opponents’ aggressions for 115 minutes in a 48-hour span, Anderson averaged 22 points connecting on 20-of-47 from the field including 8-20 from behind the arc and 20-23 from the free throw line as the Spiders defeated Rhode Island, Temple and the Flyers to claim the A10 title.
The final game’s outcome, though, might have been decided before the second media timeout less than ten minutes into the contest. With Dayton’s defense denying any post-entry passes, the Spiders swung the ball from side-to-side before Anderson took possession in the left corner with the shot clock running down.
Dayton’s Paul Williams closed out carefully on Anderson’s shot fake so as to not get too close to the Atlanta, Georgia native and allow dribble penetration. Anderson jabbed. Williams made a drop step. With the slightest of space created, Anderson left the floor and buried a 3-pointer. The Flyers had done all they could do, but there was no stopping Anderson.
“As far as him hitting every big shot we need, that’s a little bit of a broken record in Richmond,” said Spiders’ head coach Chris Mooney. “He’s hit so many big shots for us and has made so many big plays for us during the course of his career. I could not overstate how much he has meant to our program.”
Moments earlier, Anderson caught the the Flyers in a defensive switch. Chris Wright, Dayton’s 6’8″ forward, warily stepped out on the perimeter. Anderson wasted no time drilling a trey over Wright’s outstretched arms.
“He’s one of the few guards in the country that, at any time, at any point in the game, he can get create his own shot,” noted Dayton head coach Brian Gregory. “He went four-for-nine from three, and that’s where he’s added that piece of his repertoire that he didn’t have early in his career, his ability to knock down an open 3.”
A Barry Sanders on hardwood, Anderson can slip into the tiniest of gaps and effortlessly change directions to create space. Like the National Football League hall-of-famer, Anderson packs power and finesse into a compact build.
“It’s hard because he’s great with the ball,” Gregory continued. “Very rarely you can take it away from him, and he’s a tremendous free-throw shooter. So now you’re down six, seven points at the end of the game and they’re running that stuff, and he’s got the ball in his hand, and if you foul him, he shoots 90 percent. It’s a great luxury to have your point guard that is as good with the ball as he is and is also a great free-throw shooter.”
Anderson ranks third in UR history in scoring (2,113 points), steals (216), and field goals (749) along with fourth in assists (399) and sixth in three-pointers (171). He has compiled 114 career double-scoring games to go with 42 games of 20 or more points.
With Sunday’s win the Spiders earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament – their second consecutive and ninth in school history. Not since 1990 and ’91 have the Spiders punched back-to-back tickets to the dance.
It goes without saying that Anderson embraces the opportunity.
“This is the best time of the season right here,” Anderson stated after Sunday’s game. “The tournament, it’s the best thing. If you’re a competitor, man, and you love basketball like I do, like the team does, you’re ready to play whenever. So I’m ready to play right now. I could go again right now. If the tournament started in 20 minutes, I can go again. So I’m ready to play.”
Richmond tips off in the Southwest Regional against Vanderbilt at 4:10 p.m. The game will be covered on TBS. Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery have the call.