By Noah Goldberg
The Spiders head north Sunday to take on Radford in the DC Holiday Hoops Fest, seeking their 11th win and continuing their best start since 1985-1986. Richmond won its second road game of the year on Wednesday, defeating Old Dominion via a rare Grant Golden three with two seconds remaining.
Richmond has rained in threes this year as if it plays in London, but it’s been clear skies the past couple of games as the shooting storm has slowed down. The 14th-best sharpshooting squad in the country has converted the deep ball at just a 32% clip over its last two contests while redshirt junior Nick Sherod has struggled to find rhythm.
Sherod burst onto the scene in his return from a torn ACL by hitting six threes and dropping 27 points in an overtime win against St. Francis (PA). Despite admitting to pregame jitters, the only things that looked nervous while he was on the court were defenders attempting to close out on his shots, usually to no avail.
The last two games, the first since November 26th in which the Spiders did not win by double-digits, were a different story. Sherod went just 2-11 3FG in that stretch and when he wavers, so does the entire offense. Richmond is shooting a meek 31 3FG% in games that Sherod hits fewer than three deep balls. Many of his looks are open kickouts off of Blake Francis and Jacob Gilyard drives. When he doesn’t threaten from the perimeter, the offense becomes more one-dimensional and opposing defenses can hone in on Francis and Gilyard. Radford has held opponents to 31 3FG% so it’s vital Sherod returns to form for a Richmond unit producing nearly 39% of its points from beyond the arc.
When the threes haven’t fallen, redshirt junior Grant Golden has risen to the occasion. Averaging 11 points through his first seven games, Golden has scored 18 points while nabbing 7 rebounds in his last two. The Highlanders yield a 52 2P%, 297th in the nation, which should provide ample opportunity for Golden to continue to raise his scoring.
Radford fell 71-49 to a Duquesne team many are designating Richmond’s competitor for the third seed in the A-10. The Dukes dominated the paint, out-scoring Radford 34-16 and out-rebounding the Highlanders 42-27. If Golden and junior Nathan Cayo can establish a presence in the low post early, it could open up space for Sherod and Gilyard (who is averaging 6.5 points in his last two games) to break out of their shooting slumps in the second half.
Despite low usage and production on the offensive end, Gilyard still grabbed 4 steals against Old Dominion and now sits third in career steals for Richmond with 219. He needs 4 more Sunday to tie Tony Dobbins for second. Gilyard’s 3.8 steals per game leads the nation and he’ll look to cause havoc against a sound Highlanders team.
Radford’s 108 turnovers rank top-10 in the country, however that hasn’t necessarily led to production. The Highlanders turned the ball over just 9 times against Duquesne yet still scored only 49 points.
Junior Carlik Jones leads Radford and the Big South with 19.6 points and dishes 4.6 assists, second in the conference. The 6’ 1” guard is making nearly 2 three pointers a game at 53% clip and takes over 5 free throw attempts per game. The Dukes held him to 2-10 FG and just 3 assists. Averaging a team-high 3 turnovers, if the Spiders can disrupt him, not only will they limit his scoring but the Highlanders will struggle to move the ball through their offense.
Sitting at 3-7, Radford has played the 22nd toughest non-conference schedule according to KenPom. The Big South preseason favorites will try to fend off a Spider team seeking its sixth straight victory, vying to bolster its resume for a potential at-large NCAA Tournament bid. Tip is at 3:30 p.m. from the nation’s capital. Catch the game on 99.5 FM/950 AM ESPN starting at 3 p.m.