DENVER – If becoming the first double-digit seed to reach the Sweet 16 makes Richmond this year's heartwarming NCAA tournament underdog story, it's a label the 12th-seeded Spiders don't believe suits them especially well.
They didn't pour onto the floor to celebrate a workmanlike 65-48 victory over 13th-seeded Morehead State on Saturday afternoon, instead briefly exchanging the hugs and high-fives of a team that expected to advance this far.
"We definitely had a businesslike approach to the game," Richmond center Dan Geriot said. "It wasn't a surprise I think at the end when we won the game. I think that's why the celebration was not as big as you would expect."
When Richmond tuned into the NCAA tournament selection show last Sunday and learned it had received a No. 12 seed, the Spiders (29-7) viewed that as a lack of respect after going 13-3 in the Atlantic 10 and winning the conference tournament. They took out their frustration on Vanderbilt on Thursday and then dispatched of Morehead State rather easily two days later, never letting the Eagles get any closer than six points in the second half.
That Richmond thrived in the role of unlikely favorite on Saturday represents a departure from its usual March script. Past NCAA tournament upsets over highly touted Syracuse, Indiana and South Carolina cemented the Spiders' place in March lore as a giant killer, a role they may have to adopt once more on Thursday in San Antonio when they meet either top-seeded Kansas or ninth-seeded Illinois.
"We're in this tournament to win it all. That's our goal," Richmond guard Kevin Anderson said. "We're looking to go as far as possible."
Before the Spiders could look ahead to either Kansas or Illinois, they had to get past a Morehead State team brimming with confidence after upsetting Louisville on Thursday.
A small but energetic contingent of Morehead State fans donned everything from face paint to bodysuits to blue and yellow leis and packed the section of the lower bowl directly across from the Eagles bench. They launched into a "We Believe" chant before tipoff and stood much of the game, hoping to celebrate Morehead State's first Sweet 16 berth since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams.
There were several tactical maneuvers Richmond made that prevented that, but it was the Spiders' sagging matchup zone that stymied the most.
Wary of Kenneth Faried's scoring and offensive rebounding in the post, Richmond sent double teams at him from all directions, forcing the 6-foot-8 senior to find open shooters and those guards to knock down open looks. Neither occurred consistently enough, second-leading scorer Demonte Harper missing 13 of 15 shots and the Eagles going 2-for-14 from 3-point range.
"It was kind of frustrating at times when you thought they were switching guys and guys just didn't switch and then you thought they wouldn't double and they come to double," Faried said. "The whole team, we just couldn't get in a rhythm. That's a credit to Richmond."
The lack of consistent scoring prevented Morehead State from setting up its frenetic full-court press often enough and enabled Richmond to keep the tempo slow. Furthermore, it gave the Spiders plenty of opportunities to attack an Eagles zone that was not conducive to stopping a team that shoots as well as Richmond.
Because Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall didn't want Faried to have to float to the perimeter on defense to guard sweet-shooting big men Geriot or Justin Harper, he opted to play zone the entire game so that his shot-blocking and rebounding big man could stay in the paint.
That enabled Harper and Geriot to score 19 and 13 points, respectively, most on mid-range jumpers taken from gaps in the zone.
Richmond coach Chris Mooney wasn't surprised by how well his team handled the pressure of playing a game it was expected to win.
"The way we've practiced for the last month as we've come down the stretch has been great," Mooney said. "I think the guys are determined to keep playing as well as we possibly can."
- Morehead State