By Noah Goldberg
The Spiders knocked the La Salle Explorers off course Wednesday night, improving to 15-4 (5-1) with a 75-57 victory. Grant Golden led all scorers with 15 points on a perfect 6-6 FG, but freshman Tyler Burton carried his momentum from a breakout game against George Mason, dropping 14 points, 9 rebounds and 2 steals.
After Nathan Cayo was fouled immediately after the tip, Richmond came out roaring. La Salle starts four guards, with the lone forward being the 6’ 8” Ed Croswell, which was a major size advantage that Golden attacked early. On the first two possessions, the 6’ 10” bearded-beast backed down Croswell, scoring two buckets in the post.
As the Spiders dominated, Chris Mooney was able to check in reserves early. Sophomore Matt Grace and freshman Tyler Burton both saw the floor within the first four minutes, giving Golden relief. Golden would only play 17 minutes in the game, crucial rest with Dayton looming this weekend.
Burton attacked the lane soon after checking in, scoring two on a drive to the right to put Richmond up 10-0 with 14:36 in the half.
Playing his best game of the season last Saturday at George Mason, Burton kept the momentum going. He recognized size mismatches throughout the period, attacking the 200-pound Brandon Stone, 6’ 6” guard Isiah Deas and whoever else stood in front of him. Not only did he drop 10 points through 20 minutes, tied with Golden for the most, but he recorded 5 rebounds, 2 steals and had a monster block on a Deas layup attempt.
The Explorers sparked an 8-0 around the 10 minute mark, kicked off by a banked three-pointer.
Richmond stayed composed though, as two Burton steals helped them extend the lead to double-digits, going up 27-13 with 4:25 remaining.
More aggressive play on both ends of the floor from Burton and an efficient 10 points (5-5 FG) from Golden had the Spiders up 35-19 at the midway point.
Things really deteriorated for the Explorers in the second half. Sophomore Andre Gustavson attacked the rim on Richmond’s first possession, drawing a foul. His confidence driving the lane has been tremendous of late, scoring 8 points in each of his last three games until tonight.
Despite maintaining a steady lead throughout the half, the Spiders were somewhat careless with the ball. Midway through the period, Jacob Gilyard dribbled right and spotted Cayo open on the right block. With a double team converging, Gilyard threw what looked to be between an alley-oop lob and a high pass. Whatever his intentions, it sailed out of bounds, one of Gilyard’s 3 turnovers in the game.
Aside from inducing 20 Richmond turnovers, the Explorers looked inept the whole way through. Stone looked befuddled on multiple plays, several times failing to recognize the calls. Deas, La Salle’s leading scorer, was held to 3 points (1-8 FG). La Salle shot just 19-58 from the field, 12-21 from the free throw line, and sent Richmond into the double bonus with more than 10 minutes left in the second half.
It was a quiet night from Gilyard as neither he nor the rest of the Spiders were able to find rhythm from deep. He scored 10 points (2-6 FG and 1-5 3FG) and committed 4 turnovers, however his 5 assists passed Carlos Cueto for 5th-most in school history.
With great length and likely the most athleticism on the team, Burton’s sensational dunk over junior Scott Spencer and off-the-backboard block of Deas highlighted an incredible two-game stretch. What stands out even more than the Sportscenter-level plays is his maturity, however.
“I’m just going to take it one day at a time and just put in the work I’ve been putting in. Just staying focused, listening to my coaches and listening to great teammates like Grant [Golden],” Burton said after the game.
The Spiders can now look ahead to a major test against the 7th-ranked Dayton Flyers, featuring likely NBA Lottery pick Obi Toppin. That matchup will tip off on Saturday at 6 p.m. from the Robins Center, with coverage beginning at 5:30 on 99.5 FM & 950 AM ESPN.