By Noah Goldberg
The Spiders fell to the #7 Dayton Flyers on Saturday night 87-79 behind 29 points from Jacob Gilyard and 21 from Nick Sherod. Wooden Award watch list member Obi Toppin and Jalen Crutcher both went for 24 for the Flyers.
When a top-10 team rolls into town, there will always be drama and sensationalism that comes with it. Fans will be loud and obnoxious, the media eat too much of the pulled pork, but before the tip an issues far more important than basketball made themselves felt to a sold out crowd.
After racist comments were written on a black student’s door in Marsh Hall this week, students at the University of Richmond received an email from President Crutcher. Following a controversial gun rights rally downtown on Monday and the distribution of Ku Klux Klan pamphlets less than a half mile from campus a year ago, racism has been ever president in the former capital of the Confederacy. However, an issue that’s largely ignored on the court forced itself into the spotlight Saturday when students dressed in all black as an act of solidarity and protest. Signs reading, including one reading “we will be heard,” were held during the national anthem, and chants of “we want justice” rang during halftime.
Even with the player empowerment movement that’s trickling into college sports from the NBA, it’s largely difficult for student-athletes to speak out on social issues. However, Nick Sherod commended the students without hesitation in an elegant post-game statement.
For as much drama as their was in the stands, there was every bit as much on the court. Despite “Obi Sucks” chants from a shirtless group of fans in the lower student section, Toppin canned a three for the first bucket of the game. The Flyers blew open a 9-2 lead as Richmond was just 1-7 to start from the field.
After getting viciously dunked on by Ibi Watson in transition, sophomore Andre Gustavson remained grounded. With 8:20 left in the half, Toppin blocked a Golden post shot, but Gustavson came to the rescue, stealing the ball and getting up in transition for a Nick Sherod three-pointer. This gave Richmond its first lead of the game, 22-20 as the Robins Center was rocking.
Momentum was crawling Richmond’s way, leading 28-24 with 6:20 left, but Dayton responded. A few backboard-shaking dunks from Toppin and nice transition play from Jalen Crutcher sparked a 16-4 run.
Sophomore Jake Wojcik got a long two-pointer to bounce in at the buzzer, good for Richmond’s first bench points in the first 20 minutes. The Spiders headed into the break down 40-32.
Richmond once again got out to a 1-7 shooting start, allowing Dayton to open up its lead.
Sophomore Matt Grace (6’ 9”) failed to take advantage of a mismatch with the smaller Crutcher, opting to give up the rock. A few passes later and he found himself airballing a corner three.
It wasn’t the only time the Spiders didn’t play to their strengths in the first 10 minutes. Facing one of the top interior players in the nation, sending the less physical Golden into back-down situations isn’t ideal.
At one point, Toppin wasn’t called for what looked liked contact on Golden, leaving him on the deck as the Flyers ran on the break. Chris Mooney was livid and he let the refs know, receiving his second technical foul of the season.
Midway through the half, the Spiders once again failed to attack proper matchups as sophomore Sal Koureissi forced a post-hook over the much larger Jordy Tshimanga. With 8:18 to play, Richmond trailed 64-44 and was shooting 5-29 FG in the half.
The Spiders had a surge late behind 8 straight points from Nick Sherod, however. Gilyard was able to steal the ball from Toppin and get the ball up in transition, followed by a drawn charge from freshman Tyler Burton, and just like that Richmond had cut Dayton’s lead to single digits.
Crutcher hit a big three with less than three minutes to go and extended the Flyers’ lead back to 11.
On the next series, Gilyard drove left off a Golden screen, drawing Crutcher and Toppin. Gilyard hit the rolling Golden but he couldn’t convert the layup. The Flyers responded quickly as Ryan Mikesell got himself a bucket.
Such a quick 5 point swing with a golden opportunity to push late is how the entire game went for the Spiders. Golden played his worst game of the season, scoring just 7 points (3-12 FG) and getting blocked twice. In fairness, he was primarily matched up with a top-5 player in all of college basketball. However, that doesn’t excuse a crucial missed layup late.
Richmond was terrible from the field (27-69 FG) and despite taking care of the ball (7 turnovers), Dayton’s transition dominance dictated this one. Anthony Grant’s squad outscored Mooney’s 21-9 on the break.
Tyler Burton could’ve been the x-factor in this game, following two career outings. His combination of strength, length and athleticism was a major asset against the quick Flyers and Toppin, however the bright lights may have gotten to the freshman.
Midway through the second half, with Toppin defending him, Burton decided to attack right off the dribble. He rose up as if to dunk, bringing it back down for a layup, and Toppin proceeded to smack the ball against the glass like it had stolen his mother’s purse.
As excited as I was for Burton in this one, it’s outrageous to pin blame on a freshman against the #7 team in the country. Having the confidence to go at Toppin is commendable, and while not the best decision, it’s a sign of more things to come for him offensively.
As disappointing as this loss is, Richmond hasn’t hurt its at-large resume. The composure to bring a 20 point deficit down to 6 speaks volumes of what this team is able to do, especially without Blake Francis. Nate Cayo had 15 points and 6 rebounds (4 offensive) and was 5-5 from the free throw line. Gilyard is finding his stroke again from long range (5-8 3FG). This team is moving in the right direction, and with a great chance to win at VCU on Tuesday night, it remains firmly on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament.
Richmond drops to 15-5 (5-2) while the Flyers remain unbeaten in the Atlantic-10, 18-2 (7-0). The Spiders will quickly reset for a crosstown rivalry matchup with VCU at the Siegel Center on Tuesday. That one will tip off at 7 p.m. with coverage beginning at 6:30 on 99.5 & 102.7 ESPN. I