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It’s a beautiful Spring Monday here in Richmond, Virginia.  The sun was shining, and the temperature peaked at 64 degrees.  Open a window and take in the warm breeze, inhaling the quiddity of the changing seasons.  Yes, winter is almost gone, but there’s another change in the air. The Spiders will host the Davidson Wildcats for the final home game of the year that should see a different fervor in the Robins Center than the 2019 home finale.  

Richmond is second in the Atlantic-10 with a record of 22-7 (12-4) and can secure a double-bye with a victory on Tuesday for the first time since 2016-2017.  Chris Mooney attributed some of this season’s success to last year’s struggles on Friday.

Certainly there’s more excitement and enthusiasm [for 2020 home finale] and a greater goal to shoot for, but in terms of our day to day and how we’re working and the energy, I thought our guys worked really hard last year, which is part of the reason we’re having success this year.

This year has been a drastic improvement, however a double-bye isn’t the final goal.  The Spiders are riding the bubble, and if they wish to remain in the conversation come Selection Sunday, they’ll need to win these last two games.

Since Richmond defeated Davidson on the road back in January, a lot of things have changed for both sides.  Reigning A-10 Player of the Year Jon Axel-Gudmundsson has shot 10-20 3FG over his last four outings, despite posting a 30 3P% in conference play.  After an underwhelming non-conference showing, he’s put up A-10 splits of 16.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists with a 13.8 TOV%, better than both Grant Golden and Jacob Gilyard.  Don’t expect him to repeat a six turnover performance from the last time these teams matched up.

Junior Kellan Grady, Gudmundsson’s partner in crime, has also looked more consistent in conference play, shooting a blistering 43.2 3P%.  The backcourt duo drives what is the second most efficient offense in the A-10, per KenPom, and leads the league with a 37 3P%.  

Grady, a former RSCI top-100 prospect, has kept his turnover rate to 9.8% while leading Davidson in both scoring and usage rate.  He’s also posting a 57 TS% in league play, which means the Spiders could have a tough time holding him to 5-15 FG again.

Bob McKillop’s squad is certainly playing differently since January and even gives a new look.  Nelson Boachie-Yiodum, a 6’ 8” 220 pound sophomore, has found his way into the starting lineup. He provides a major boost on the defensive end, leading the Wildcats with a 95.4 DRtg.

Richmond isn’t the same team from a few months ago either.  Blake Francis missed the last meeting with a fractured sternum and now leads his team with 17.1 points in conference play.  As electric as he’s been on offense, though sometimes overly ambitious and inefficient, he’s been a defensive spark plug.  

The Spiders are second in the Atlantic-10 in defensive efficiency and have held opponents to less than 60 points per game in the month of February.  For context, they are 12-0 when allowing less than 60 points and 16-0 when allowing less than 70. Francis’s quickness will be much needed to mitigate Grady’s offensive barrage, which has seen him put up 21.7 points over his last three games, trailing just Dayton’s Obi Toppin over that stretch.

Davidson has been outscored in the paint in three of its last four games, including dominant performances from Toppin and URI’s big man Cyril Langevine.  Having Francis in this one gives Richmond even more floor spacing than before, which should open a lot of things up for Grant Golden. He won’t have trouble in one on ones against the leaner 6’ 10” Luka Brajkovic.  He’s also put up 13 assists over the last two games, remaining comfortable passing out of double teams. Whether he puts up 25 points or 13, things will run through Golden, particularly in this matchup.

Tip off from the Robins Center on Tuesday night is at 7 p.m. as the Spiders look to clinch a top-four seed in the Atlantic-10.  Catch the action right here on 99.5 FM and 950 AM ESPN Richmond.

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