By Noah Goldberg
The Spiders defeated the Wisconsin Badgers 62-52 in the Roman Legends Classic in a surprising defensive battle, behind 19 points from Blake Francis and a 16-point double-double from Grant Golden. Richmond will play the winner of Auburn/New Mexico tomorrow for the tournament championship.
Everyone and their mothers know that the Spiders can shoot the ball, but the question has been whether they can find a stop on defense. Both interior and perimeter defenses have been abysmal through four games, however, they contested Wisconsin throughout the first half.
The 6’ 11” Nate Reuvers had a solid start, scoring two early buckets on Grant Golden in the post on simple backdown jump hooks. It looked as if Golden could be in for a tough assignment, however Wisconsin mysteriously didn’t try to take advantage of the size matchup often. He’d go 5-8 from the field in the half.
Golden and junior Jacob Gilyard got their chemistry going early as the two linked up on a signature pick and roll for a Golden layup just less than midway through the first half. Golden also grabbed three early rebounds, leading to seven for him in the first period. He fought for position well despite matching up with a lengthier Reuvers.
Blake Francis took over in the first half, knocking down tough shot after tough shot. His 16 points would lead all scorers and the Spiders needed every one he could give them. They were 3-10 from the three point line but did an excellent job contesting the Badgers’ shots. Wisconsin shot just 39 FG% and 20% from three. One of their threes came with the clock running out, when freshman Tyler Wahl stole the ball and hit a half-court three at the buzzer to make it 31-29 Richmond.
Wisconsin shot just 27% from the field in the first half excluding Reuvers, yet he took less shots in the second half than in the first. If anything, Golden went right at him out of the half, scoring on him and drawing the foul less than three minutes in. After securing a defensive rebound, he drove up the court, faked a handoff to Sherod, and completed the coast-to-coast layup with about 16:20 remaining to secure his second double-double of the season, putting Richmond up 37-32.
The Badgers did not lead UR in this game from when they were up 7-6 until midway through the second half. With about 11 minutes to go, Reuvers hit a three to tie things at 45. He went right back at Golden a couple of possessions later to draw the foul, hitting both free throws. Wisconsin found themselves up 2 with just under 10 left.
After some sloppy play and a couple of miscommunications on passes between sophomore Sal Koureissi and Gilyard, Richmond led 52-50 with under five minutes to go. From here, Nate Cayo and company went to work on the defensive end. He clamped up D’Mitrik Trice, blocking his mid-range shot as Francis chased down the loose ball, leading to a shot clock violation with 3:50 to go.
After dishing an assist to Nathan Cayo, his fifth, Jacob Gilyard was still scoreless as the Spiderse led 55-50 with under three minutes. Crossing up Trice at the top of the key, Gilyard stepped back and hit a deep three for his first and only field goal of the night. Richmond was able to close it out the rest of the way, winning by ten.
It was a gritty, defensive win for a Richmond team that certainly wasn’t looking forward to such a style of play. Despite a quiet night from Jacob Gilyard, who’d been averaging nearly 21 points per game, Mooney had his team helping on defense, rotating quickly and going around screens well for the most part. There were plenty of instances they were caught jumping on pump fakes, but good communication allowed helpers to mitigate the penetration.
The most impressive part about Grant Golden’s double-double is the 11 rebounds he pulled down, matching up with the taller Reuvers for most of the night. He looked inspired on both ends of the floor and though he only had one assists (a beautiful dime to Andre Gustavson on a backdoor cut), he showed physicality Spider fans have been craving.
Speaking of that physicality, he, Cayo and Koureissi limited the Badgers to just four second chance points on eight offensive rebounds. Golden’s 11 boards were followed by freshman Tyler Burton’s four in just eight minutes played. The young 6’ 7” wing didn’t look comfortable on offense, however he again displayed is athleticism and strength, grabbing several rebounds over the longer Reuvers and Aleem Ford.
Blake Francis was a resilient scorer throughout the first half, and though he only scored three in the second, his career-high six assists were crucial down the stretch.
Richmond will face the winner of Auburn/New Mexico tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. with coverage on 99.5 FM/950 AM ESPN.