By Noah Goldberg
The Richmond Spiders crawled back from a double-digit deficit late to top the St. Francis (PA) Red Flash, 100-98 in an overtime shootout on Friday. Egregiously poor defensive rebounding put the Spiders in a deep hole, but clutch play from Nick Sherod and Jacob Gilyard helped carry Richmond to victory.
Junior Nathan Cayo came out of the gates aggressively after a lackluster performance in a scrimmage with Randolph-Macon College Sunday. He grabbed two early rebounds and his dunk scored the first points of the game.
Freshman Tyler Burton, who many have expected to reinforce Richmond on the boards as a strong 6’ 7” rebounder, was the first man off the bench, checking in about two minutes into the game. His 15:33 playing time was second only to sophomore Andre Gustavson’s 17:56.
Officiating was in the spotlight early. Following questionable foul calls on sophomores Matt Grace and Sal Koureissi, St. Francis was trapped baseline and appeared to travel, yet no call was made. With over eight minutes to go in the first half, Chris Mooney drew his first technical foul of the year as the Robins Center roared.
A high octane first half, the Red Flash led Richmond 44-42 behind 12 second chance points. They led the Northeast Conference in offensive rebounding a season ago and grabbed 15 against VCU on Tuesday.
After giving 11 strong minutes in the first half, Burton didn’t see the floor again until under two minutes remained in the game. Over this time, Richmond was helpless against the efforts of senior guard Keith Braxton and sophomore Myles Thompson. They respectively had three and five offensive rebounds in the game. Reigning NEC Player of the Year, Braxton nearly averaged a double-double in 2018-2019 and is second in career rebounds among all returning Division 1 players (tied for first in double-doubles). He dropped 20 points and 11 boards in this one.
With total domination on the offensive glass, the Red Flash found themselves up 78-66, including 24 second chance points, with 6:58 left. It was then that senior Isaiah Blackmon, a career 42 3FG% shooter, caught fire. He grabbed two rebounds, one offensive, scored two second chance points and hit two threes over the next 2.5 minutes.
With the game spiraling out of control, it seemed like the sky might be falling for Richmond. The A-10 Second-Team Preseason selection Grant Golden drove hard with 5:34 to play, hitting the layup and drawing a foul. However, Golden stayed on the ground for minutes, with trainers tending to him. He had to be helped off the court as he shook his head in what appeared to be a ankle injury. Miraculously though, he was able to return to action minutes later.
Richmond trailed 86-74 at the final media timeout with 2:52 to play. In his return from an ACL tear that ended his junior year, Nick Sherod came up big. Hitting two free throws out of the time out, he’d hit another two-pointer in the paint and a huge three to cut the deficit to five with 1:14 left. The next moment belonged to Burton.
After sitting most of the second half, the freshman from Uxbridge, Massachusetts, got a huge steal around mid-court, picking Scott Meredith’s pocket. Burton flew up in transition for his second monster slam of the night, making it a one possession game at 89-86.
Jacob Gilyard went on to do his thing: steal the ball and hit shots. After driving left for an open layup to make it 90-88, he stole the ball with 00:27 and drew the foul on Blackmon. Two made free throws and it was overtime in the Robins Center.
Mooney sent out his starting five of junior Blake Francis, Sherod, Gilyard, Golden and Cayo to begin the extra period. After both teams traded baskets, the score was 97-97 by way of yet another Blackmon three.
Under a minute to go, Blake Francis drove baseline where he was met by two Red Flash defenders. What seemed like it could be another tough Francis layup in traffic turned into a beautiful dish to Cayo under the basket for an easy two. After Blackmon rained threes in the late goings, he couldn’t hit one with 16 seconds as Sherod secured his eighth rebound to seal things up.
It was an ugly victory for the 11-point favorite Spiders. The got worked on the glass and could not seem to get a stop all night. However, Nick Sherod (27 points and eight rebounds) looked fantastic in his return to action. Jacob Gilyard had 24 points and eight assists while playing incredibly clutch defense.
Tyler Burton had his moment at the end of regulation and proved with his four boards how strong of a rebounder he is. While there were moments when he got caught out of position defensively, flashes of incredible athletic ability could allude to more minutes as he continues to learn.
“He’s going to be a special player,” Mooney said of Burton. “He’s very talented and has a great work ethic. He’s going to be a good defender, but like most freshman he struggles right now.”
With the win, the Spiders look forward to hosting Vanderbilt in the Robins Center on Thursday.