A five game win streak that saw the Spiders lead the nation in opponent points per game came to an end Saturday with a loss at St. Bonaventure.  A late surge, led by some clutch shots from Blake Francis, was not enough to overcome a double-digit deficit, as the Bonnies leapfrogged Richmond for 3rd place in the Atlantic-10.  

Richmond appeased its road shooting woes over the previous five games with a combination of phenomenal defense and a light schedule.  It is easy to forget a 4-19 3FG performance at La Salle when you hold them to 47 points, not to mention the less forgettable scare at Fordham.  Having success in spite of poor shooting is commendable, but the highly anticipated return of Francis has had an underwhelming effect on Richmond’s perimeter game.

With 15:33 to play in the first half on Saturday, Nick Sherod took a dribble hand-off from Jacob Gilyard and proceeded to miss a wide-open, straightaway three-pointer.  That shot, making the Spiders 0-4 3FG to that point, is one Sherod has built his career upon. Hitting early shots and playing with confidence has been a major predictor of Sherod’s in-game success, and often his team’s as well.  That held true in this one.

Richmond hit its first three pointer with 6:32 in the first half when freshman Tyler Burton used a high-ball screen to drill one off the dribble.  Minutes later, Gilyard swung the ball to Burton on an ATO for his second straight three. He’s shot well at a low volume during conference play and shown ability to create space in flashes, however the 20-year-old is not consistent enough yet to carry a major offensive load.

Grant Golden’s success over the last six games has garnered a lot of attention from opposing defenses.  Dave Paulsen chose to double-team him last Wednesday every time the big man touched the ball in the post, forcing the redshirt junior into four turnovers.  The Bonnies did the same thing, and though Golden only gave up the ball twice, they limited his playmaking ability and forced him into a less efficient performance than he’s grown accustomed to (5-10 FG and five assists).  

13 points, eight rebounds and five assists from a 6’ 10” center is nothing to complain about, but Golden worked harder than normal to find his spots.  Double-teamed on the right block at the end of the half, he spun out of it and missed a reverse layup with Osun Ossuniyi lurking. Exerting energy on those types of plays significantly limited how effective he could be defensively.  St. Bonaventure outscored Richmond in the paint, outrebounded them and took 21 free throws, controlling the interior all night.

Trailing 40-32 at the break, the Spiders failed to go on a major run until late in the game.  Francis hit a three to cut the deficit under 10 with about 12 minutes to go, but sophomore Kyle Lofton answered with a deep ball of his own.  Every time Richmond found rhythm, the Bonnies countered with their own run.  

Down 68-59, Richmond made its only second-half push with under a minute to go.  Golden hit a rare three with 37 seconds left, followed by a flagrant foul on Bobby Planutis after elbowing Andre Gustavson in the face.  Gustavson missed the second shot, but the Spiders grabbed the rebound and found Francis for a corner three, making it 69-66 with 0:32. Unfortunately, it was too little too late.

Shot selection was certainly questionable in certain moments for the Spiders, such as a second-half Francis three-point air ball with 20 seconds on the shot clock.  For the most part though, Richmond got a lot of decent looks. Nick Sherod disappeared yet again on the road, going 1-5 from deep, and Francis was 3-13 from beyond the arc.  Credit to the Bonnies for giving the Spiders difficulty finding outlets by aggressively double-teaming Golden, but Richmond was missing nearly every clean look until late in the game.

Jerry Palm of CBS still has Richmond in the NCAA Tournament despite the 75-71 loss, and the Spiders dropped to just 52 and 48 in KenPom and NET respectively, keeping them heavily in bubble conversation.  That being said, this game only deepens concerns about the team’s ability to generate offense outside of the Robins Center, issues dating back to the Legends Classic. 

Sherod, who is shooting nearly 42 3FG% in A-10 play, is down to 34.3 3FG% on the road in conference play.  Gilyard, shooting 38 3P% on the year, is hitting the deep ball at just a 31% clip in conference play. Adding Gilyard’s perimeter struggles, Francis’s 3-13 3FG performance and Grant Golden dealing with constant double teams and you have a game that’s unwinnable without production from Sherod.

KenPom favorites the Spiders in 3 of their next four games and is calling the finale at Duquesne a pick-em.  Against UMass and George Washington, they can get away with riding the 2nd most efficient defense in the Atlantic-10, but that won’t be enough against Davidson and in Pittsburgh, not to mention Brooklyn.  This team is still hanging on to the right side of the bubble, but this loss makes the next four must-wins.

Richmond looks to bounce back in the nation’s capital on Wednesday against George Washington, a team they pummeled by 22 earlier this month.  That one will tip off at 7 p.m., with coverage right here on 99.5 FM and 950 AM ESPN Richmond.

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