RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — In a contest to determine who rules the Atlantic 10 standings for the time being, VCU proved once again they can put their best foot forward in crucial matchups. The Rams powered past their intra-city rival Richmond, 81-74, to take sole possession of first place entering the second half of the conference season.
VCU (17-5, 7-2) have now defeated the top team in the Atlantic 10, at the time of their meeting, three times in a row: La Salle, Dayton and tonight Richmond; all of them at home.
The Rams were led by junior forward Justin Tillman, who posted 18 points and nine rebounds for a second consecutive game, one of four Rams scored in double figures against the Spiders. Richmond (13-9, 7-3) was carried by senior guard ShawnDre Jones with his second consecutive 30 point outing and senior forward TJ Cline’s 15 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
The first half was an exchange of body blows by each team in a game that included 10 ties and 10 lead changes. The Spiders started by knocking down their first three 3-point attempts for a 14-9 lead with 12:20 to play in the opening period, then went cold going 1 for 8 until halftime.
Mo Alie-Cox hounded A-10 Player of the Year candidate TJ Cline all night, limiting Richmond’s playmaker to just two first half points. Alie-Cox finished with 14 points.
Cline found the basket in the second half, scoring 13 points including a tough layup with 14:46 left in regulation to give Richmond a 42-38 lead.
Justin Tillman was consistent all night, but provided the wake up call VCU needed to turn the tide over a minute later off a nifty assist from Johnny Williams. That play started a 13-4 run for the Rams, capped off by an NBA-range 3-pointer from JeQuan Lewis with 8:52 to play, to take a 54-47 lead. Lewis finished with 13 points and five assists.
ShawnDre Jones kept the Spiders in striking distance in the final eight minutes, drilling a difficult step-back jumper with over four left in regulation to get within six of VCU.
Mo Alie-Cox would give the Rams its largest lead of the game, 71-61, at the two minute mark by finishing a contested layup followed by a made free throw.
Up next for VCU is a two-game road trip at St. Bonaventure, Saturday, February 4th and at George Washington next Wednesday, February 8th.
Richmond returns home to host the Colonials this Saturday at the Robins Center.