RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Richmond coach Chris Mooney has nothing but praise for Kevin Anderson, and the point guard could be on the brink of showing the nation how good he can be.
The senior has always been at his best in the biggest games, and the 12th-seeded Spiders (29-7) will face their stiffest test of the NCAA tournament on Friday night: Kansas (34-2).
Anderson, soft-spoken off the court, said Wednesday he’s a bit rankled.
“It seems like everybody’s penciling Kansas in that spot,” he said Wednesday after a long shooting drill. “I don’t like that and I don’t think the team likes that, so were definitely going to go in there with a chip on our shoulder.”
Chip or not, this would seem to be Anderson’s kind of game.
“He’s been a great player really since the day he walked onto campus and the highest compliment I think you can give any player is that he plays his best when the game means the most,” coach Chris Mooney said. “For Kevin, that’s who he’s been since the day he walked in.
“He’s been just a tremendous part of all of our success.”
Anderson has averaged more than 26 points in the Spiders’ last five victories against ranked teams. He was the most valuable player of the Atlantic 10 tournament this year, which Richmond won. His 25 points in the second round against Vanderbilt included the game-winning floater with 18.7 seconds to play. He followed that up with 14 points as Richmond sailed past Morehead State, 65-49.
“Against Vanderbilt, when he had the ball and he was calling the plays, it was like whatever he wanted to do, we were going to do and he was going to win the game for us,” Dan Geriot, one of three other seniors in the starting lineup, said before the team left Richmond.
“In the clutch, he wants to shoot the ball, he wants to be the guy and he’s going to make the shot. It’s happened so many times in my career it’s almost like second nature,” he said.
Anderson’s play has not gone unnoticed by one of the most respected figures in Spiders’ history. Former coach Dick Tarrant marvels at the 6-footer — now the second-leading scorer in Spiders’ history with 2,152 points.
“People always rave about how many points he scores,” said Tarrant, who helped Richmond become known as a giant killer with victories in the tournament over Charles Barkley and Auburn in 1984, defending national champion Indiana in 1988, Syracuse in 1991 and third-seeded South Carolina in 1998. “I always say that it’s when he scores them. It seems to me if we’re up eight and the opponent gets two field goals and it’s down to four, then Kevin gets a ‘3’ to make it seven. If the lead is nine and they get a little run and score six, seven points, then Kevin comes through with a three-point play.
“He always scores when it is most important for the team to get more comfortable.”
All of which helps explain the team’s comfort in leaving things in Anderson’s hands.
“He’s been making big shots for years. Now it’s just on a lot bigger stage,” Geriot said.
And for Anderson, sharing the stage with his teammates is perhaps the best part.
“It means a lot because we work hard every day and for it to finally pay off, it’s a great feeling,” he said. “We still have work to do, but it’s great to have it pay off the way it has.”