By Noah Goldberg
Richmond beat Jerry Stackhouse’s Commodores on Thursday, 93-92, in an overtime thriller on an Andre Gustavson free throw with :00.6 remaining in the game. It’s the first time since 2011 that Richmond has won consecutive games against a Power-5 opponent after topping Wake Forest last December.
Grant Golden had a quiet night as he deals with an ankle injury from last Sunday, but fellow juniors Nathan Cayo, Jacob Gillyard and Blake Francis made up for it, combining for 70 points. After an underwhelming performance in the opener, Cayo dominated on the glass, grabbing eight rebounds and six on the offensive end, including a tip out to an open Nick Sherod three pointer to take a one-point lead with about a minute left in overtime.
Vanderbilt has been one of the better three-point shooting teams in the SEC thus far, led by Aaron Nesmith, who is shooting a whopping 57 3FG% through three games. Five NBA scouts were in attendance to watch Nesmith tonight and he certainly impressed, dropping 34 points (12-18 FG) and snatching seven boards.
The Spiders were able to keep Nesmith, averaging 26.7 points per game, in check in the first half with just eight points as they led Vanderbilt 36-29. Stackhouse’s squad shot a mere 4-14 3FG in the first period, failing to hit open looks as Richmond closed out well on shooters. However, Nesmith came roaring out of the locker room, knocking down 4 straight threes to begin the second half, leading to a 12-2 Commodore run.
Forced turnovers kept Richmond in the game in the second half. At about the seven-minute mark, Gilyard stole the ball from Scottie Pippen Jr. (one of seven steals on the evening), finding Nathan Cayo for an easy layup. Over the next three minutes, the Commodores turned it over four times as the Spiders went on a 10-0 run to lead 71-66 with 4:07 left in regulation.
With Richmond up 76-71 and just under three minutes to play, Vanderbilt’s improved second half perimeter shooting held them above water. Nesmith (1) and Lee (2) would go 3-3 3FG in the last 2:13 to force overtime at 80 a piece.
Two straight Spider turnovers less than a minute into extra time, Vanderbilt led 84-80. After a third Spider turnover on a bad pass from Gilyard, Cayo stole the ball right back from Lee, leading to a deep pull up three for Blake Francis’s 24th point. Then, down 85-87 at 1:18, Cayo grabbed is sixth (SIXTH) offensive rebound, tipping the ball out to Nick Sherod. 1-6 from deep before this moment, Sherod didn’t hesitate, stepping right into the shot from the left side of the arc and draining it to go up by one.
A Saben Lee drive to the right side was defended well by Golden, but Francis was called for the foul coming to help. Two made free throws and another three from Nesmith after Gustavson was screened made way for a signature Jacob Gilyard reverse layup on Pippen Jr.
At 92-92 with 19 seconds, Vanderbilt had the ball coming out of a timeout with the chance to take the last shot. Who do you expect stepped up to the plate for Richmond? Jacob Gilyard yet again. Stealing the ball on a bad pass from Lee, Gilyard resisted the urge to shoot it from half court with two seconds left, instead hitting Gustavson up in transition, who was then fouled on a dunk attempt with 0.6 left. One made free throw and the game was over, 93-92 Spiders.
After being outrebounded by a D-3 opponent and getting destroyed on the offensive glass by St. Francis (PA), the Spiders held their ground behind Cayo’s authoritative performance. Although they gave up 10 offensive rebounds and were out rebounded 41-33, they limited second chance points and actually had the advantage, 10-9, over Vanderbilt.
Not only was Cayo excellent on the boards, but his 8-9 free throw shooting was a prime factor. Second for Richmond in FTA last year, he shot them at just a 57.7% rate and the team together shot 66 FT%, good for 321st in the nation. In two games, Cayo’s 9-10 FT could indicate his progressing shooting stroke. “I thought he was terrific,” coach Mooney said of Cayo. “When he’s aggressive, he has so many tools that he can be an extremely helpful guy.”
Blake Francis had an excellent game on the offensive end after an inefficient outing in his debut. He had 24 points (9-17 FG, 3-9 3FG) and four rebounds, including a deep three pointer to start overtime. The Wagner-transfer could prove to be a major pickup for this prolific offense.
Scoring 100 and 93 points respectively to start the year, this Spider team still needs to improve defensively, which was its focus over the summer. As good as two overtime wins feel, St. Francis plays in the Northeast Conference, and Vanderbilt is projected to be the worst team in the SEC. With Wisconsin, and potentially Auburn, looming in the Roman Legends Classic, Sherod, Cayo and the rest of the team need to improve going around screens, switching and stopping the ball at the point of attack. The bright spot, though, is that they’re forcing turnovers and capitalizing on them (34 points off TO) behind seven Gilyard steals.
Advancing to 2-0, Richmond looks ahead to a home matchup with Cal State-Northridge on Sunday. Tip is at 4pm in the Robins Center, with coverage on 99.5 FM/950 AM starting at 3:30.