ICYMI: Make sure to check out the most recent episode of the Spider Scoop Podcast!
The Spiders head north to Gabe Arizin’s home turf, looking to sweep the season series against La Salle Wednesday night. Richmond is coming off of a shaky 6-point victory at Fordham, but Blake Francis’s welcomed return should add more juice to an inconsistent offense down the stretch of conference play.
Getting out to fast starts has been crucial for Richmond, and an 18-3 opening run against La Salle in January certainly did not hurt. Despite a season-high 20 turnovers, the Spiders dominated defensively and exposed a significant size advantage. The Explorers started four guards, with the lone forward being 6-8 sophomore Ed Croswell. 6-10 center Grant Golden went to work, scoring a team-high 15 points in just 16 minutes as Richmond outscored La Salle 34-22 in the paint.
Is Richmond at its best when it’s going 10-19 from deep and getting double figures from all three starting guards? Yes, probably. But the once sharpshooting-Spiders are down to 33.3 3P% in Atlantic 10 Conference play. Having Francis back is a major plus, but Mooney shouldn’t stray from the game plan that gave him success last time against this team: work it low to Golden, Cayo and Burton, get to the free throw line and swarm the ball on defense.
Richmond was 22-29 at the charity stripe in that game. Junior Nathan Cayo, who shot below 50 FT% last season, is shooting 80.3% this year. He leads Richmond in FTr (free throws taken per field goal attempt), which has made the improvement even more valuable. Cayo’s offensive role has slightly diminished due to a crowded starting unit, but the Quebec-native has continued to threaten opposing defenses by holding them honest at the line. Cayo, Burton and Golden combined for 10-14 FT against La Salle and they should continue to look for contact.
Tyler Burton had a career game against the Explorers (14 points and 9 rebounds) and is averaging 20.4 points per 40 minutes over his last eight outings, which trails only Golden’s 25 per 40. The rebounding (29.3 DRB% leads team) and defense (89.5 DRTG leads team) have been there since day one. With his scoring and confidence attacking the basket growing with each substitution, there’s no reason he shouldn’t continue his success with a big game Wednesday. Put Burton on double-double watch.
Croswell could be a problem for the Spiders on the offensive glass, posting 5.0 offensive rebounds per game for an Explorers squad leading the Atlantic 10 in ORB%. Freshman Brandon Stone is the only other true second-chance threat though, and Richmond held the 6-11 200-pound forward to just 4 points, 5 rebounds and 2 turnovers. Cayo’s strength advantage negated any height mismatch with Stone, so as long as Golden and company can contain Croswell, don’t expect a glaring discrepancy in second-chance points between these teams. La Salle turned 10 offensive rebounds into just 6 points the last time out.
Wednesday is Richmond’s last tune-up before a rematch with VCU on Saturday. The Spiders beat the Explorers by 18 in January but have struggled to shoot the ball away from home. If Gilyard, shooting 30.3 3P% in conference play, and Sherod stay inconsistent from beyond the arc, Richmond can still win this game by playing through the red-hot Golden. However, those two need to find rhythm that they can carry into the weekend as a double-bye seeding looms. VCU let Golden go to work last time, instead shutting down the perimeter. The Spiders will need to knock down shots, and Blake Francis could help make that happen.
Tip off is at 7 p.m. from Tom Gola Arena as the Spiders will look to advance to 18-6 for the first time since 2010-2011. Catch the action right here on 99.5 and 102.7 FM ESPN.