By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer
In college basketball, every game counts the same in the win-loss column, but there are some games whose impact is felt far longer than just a few hours after the final buzzer.
When Richmond upset Xavier 67-59 at Cintas Center Jan. 7 with a 12-point second-half comeback, the Spiders exposed Xavier's lack of depth at guard and forced freshman point guard Dedrick Finn to fight through countless picks and screens on defense. Finn, who was limping by the end of the game, struggled to run the Musketeers offense that was outscored 12-3 in the final minutes.
As the teams prepare for today's noon rematch at Richmond's Robins Center, the ramifications of that game can be seen on each squad as the teams fight to stay in the Atlantic 10 title race.
Xavier (14-4, 5-1 Atlantic 10) began a five-game winning streak after the Richmond loss. Finn assumed a more commanding role at point guard without Lionel Chalmers, who could return today for the first time since he injured his right foot Dec. 31. Coaches said if Chalmers does play, it will be in a very limited role.
Richmond, under first-year coach Jerry Wainwright, took the confidence from winning at Xavier and turned it into a 6-1 A-10 start (12-6 overall).
"To start off the A-10 season with any road win, much less at Xavier, jump-started our learning curve," said Wainwright, who said the adjustment to a new head coach has not been easy for his players. "It helped in terms of credibility in what we're trying to do as coaches. When you're teaching a new system, you always have more belief in the coach when you're successful."
The players' trust has placed Richmond in second place in the A-10 West behind Dayton (14-3, 6-0), making today's game critical for Xavier and Richmond just to keep pace with Dayton, which plays at LaSalle today. Xavier plays host to Dayton next Saturday at Cintas Center.
Because Xavier lost that first league game to Richmond, the Musketeers will face must-win games as long as Dayton and Richmond keep winning.
"We wanted to have a perfect conference season," Finn said. "We will be a lot more fired up and more focused this time. If players lose focus, I'll be the one to get on them and make sure they are ready to play for 40 minutes."
That is the type of leadership Matta had hoped to get from Finn coming off the Richmond loss. Finn said Richmond would see a different player than the one who was outplayed by the Spiders' Jeff Myers, who scored 18 points on Finn in the first game.
Since then, Matta has impressed upon Finn how important each game is in terms of winning the regular-season title.
"We don't see (Richmond) losing again in the conference," Finn said. "So if we lose (today), we might not win the conference."
Xavier is the defending A-10 regular-season and conference tournament champion. Richmond joined the league last season and finished second in the West and runner-up in the tournament. Even so, Wainwright wouldn't throw the Spiders into the mix of conference leaders such as Saint Joseph's, Xavier and Dayton.
"Only because we've played seven games," Wainwright said. "We have to stand the test of time. We haven't proven anything yet. I'm not even sure that everyone in the nation even knows were in the A-10."
Richmond isn't hiding from anybody, especially after Tuesday's 84-47 decimation of Duquesne at Robins Center, where Richmond is 3-0 in A-10 games. Matta realizes a road win today could go a long way in determining Xavier's end-of-the-season standing.
"You don't want to put yourself in a position where it gets into March and you're saying, 'Gee I hope so-and-so beats so-and-so,'" Matta said. "You'd like to control your own destiny. We have to keep playing basketball. To look anywhere besides the noon game (today) is foolish."
Xavier at Richmond
Tipoff: Noon today, Robins Center (8,881), Richmond, Va.
Records: XU 14-4 (5-1 Atlantic 10) Richmond 12-6 (6-1).
Radio: WLW-AM (700).
Series: Xavier leads 3-1.
Line: XU by 2 1/2
Coach: Thad Matta (40-10, second season; 64-18 overall).
Coach: Jerry Wainwright (12-6, first season; 148-109 overall).
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