Richmond probably can’t ask for an easier opponent in its first game as a ranked team in 24 years.
The 25th-ranked Spiders look to extend their win streak to seven games and hand visiting Fordham a 17th straight loss Wednesday night.
Richmond (20-6, 9-2 Atlantic 10) has used its longest win streak since 2001 to move into the Top 25 for the first time since January 1986. The Spiders lead No. 21 Temple and Charlotte by one-half game atop the conference standings.
“It’s really a significant accomplishment, and we’ve been very open with our guys about this, that it was something that we wanted to accomplish,” fifth-year coach Chris Mooney said. “It’s not going to help us beat Fordham, but it’s certainly going to make us feel really good and understand we’ve been recognized in a really, really elite category.”
The Spiders have not won seven in a row since an eight-game run Feb. 16-March 12, 1998, and likely won’t need to be at their best to defeat Fordham (2-21, 0-11). The Rams own the nation’s second-longest losing streak behind Bryant’s 0-26 start, and have dropped 21 straight conference games.
Richmond has won two straight over Fordham after losing the previous five meetings. Guards Kevin Anderson and David Gonzalvez combined for 35 points in last season’s 78-68 road win.
The Spiders have relied on that backcourt all season. Anderson and Gonzalvez are Richmond’s leading scorers with averages of 17.2 points and 13.8, respectively.
Gonzalvez scored a season-high 25 points in Saturday’s 68-49 road win over St. Bonaventure to pick up the slack for Anderson, who matched a season low with six. The Spiders trailed 32-31 at halftime before using a 13-0 run to start the second half to take control.
“I just had an aggressive mind-set, trying to go out there and impact the game like I know I can,” Gonzalvez said. “I just gotta keep going out there and be aggressive.”
The Spiders are trying to remain focused amidst the buzz generated on campus by the ranking. Richmond has two games this week at home, where they are 11-1.
“We’ll see if it changes anything,” Mooney said. “We didn’t want to hide from it. We wanted to seek it, and I know that ultimately it doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished your other goals. It doesn’t give you the championship of the A-10, or it doesn’t give you an NCAA tournament berth, but it does mean something.”
Fordham is enduring a difficult season in which coach Dereck Whittenburg was fired after a 1-4 start on the heels of last year’s 3-25 campaign. In addition, last year’s A-10 freshman of the year Jio Fontan left the team, leaving interim coach Jared Grasso without the Rams’ leading scorer from a season ago.
The Rams have three freshmen in their lineup, with first-year forward Chris Gaston averaging a team-high 17.6 points and senior guard Brenton Butler second at 15.9. Gaston and Butler combined for 18 points on 3-of-23 shooting in Saturday’s 78-53 loss to George Washington.
“Chris and Brenton struggled today,” Grasso said. “This team is not going to win many games if those guys don’t score.”