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The #19 Richmond Spiders escaped Wofford with a late 6-0 run despite leading for more than 36 minutes, defeating the Terriers 77-72. Jacob Gilyard led his team in its first game back since pausing for COVID, dropping 18 points (4-7 3FG) and securing the win down the stretch with his fifth steal of the afternoon.
A Top-25 nod means Richmond will have a target on its back for the foreseeable future, getting each opponent’s best shot every game. Wofford came into this one doing just that, exuding confidence and aggression from the tip off. It was an ugly start for them, but not for a lack of trying.
The Terriers jacked their first six shots from deep en route to an 0-11 FG start. Richmond did not dazzle either, and did not have many opportunities to run the break or create turnovers because of quick perimeter shots from the opponent. Gilyard got his first shot to go on a reverse layup, and five minutes into the game drilled a step back jumper to bring the Spiders opening run to 11-0.
Wofford continued to struggle with the jumpers but quickly discovered a valiant game plan: generate second chance opportunities. Senior Tray Holowell got his first free throw to go after being fouled on a drive at the 13:47 mark, his squad’s first basket of the game. After missing the second attempt, sophomore Messiah Jones came up with an offensive rebound, getting fouled on his way down by Matt Grace. Dominance on the offensive glass helped keep the Terriers in the game through the first twenty minutes, especially as they continued to miss looks from deep.
Junior Sal Koureissi was the highest rated recruit in his class as a freshman, but foul trouble and a poor jump shot among other issues led to limited minutes through his first two seasons. Chris Mooney and staff said they wanted to try the forward in more of a wing role this year than as a center/low post player, citing improved handles, lateral quickness and a jump shot.
While he is not a floor-running three-and-d machine, the 6’ 9” Harlem, New York-product gave an excellent 11 minutes in the first half, making plays on break, blocking a great Storm Murphy drive and adding in five points (2-2 FG). Koureissi even hit a corner three-pointer and did not commit a foul, a significant mark for a player who fouled out on per-40 statistics last season.
Despite his efforts, and a 5-17 3FG showing from Wofford, Richmond could not quite break things open in the first 20 minutes. Senior Nathan Cayo, hot off an MVP outing at the Bluegrass Showcase and averaging more than 20 points, took just two shots in the first half. Grant Golden and Blake Francis led their group with eight points each, heading into the locker room up 37-30.
Gilyard tried to get Cayo going out of the break, feeding the 6’ 7” forward on the first possession in the low post. Unable to find anything, he dished to Golden, who missed a tough mid range shot with the clock winding down. Gilyard went right back to Cayo the next time down the floor, who stepped into an elbow jumper, drilling it and continuing to show off his improved range.
The two sides exchanged points in the paint for second chance baskets until Richmond looked to pull away with about 15 minutes remaining. Francis led a three on two fast break off a Terrier miss, finding Tyler Burton running the left lane. He finished a layup through contact from Murphy, earning a free throw. Murphy, who shot a blistering 42 3P% a year ago, answered with a three-point shot, but Burton was unrelenting. He followed right back with a three of his own. An ensuing Gustavson layup in transition brought the Spiders’ lead up to 56-44 with 13:13 to play.
Unlike the Kentucky victory, Richmond’s foot eased off the gas over the final 10 minutes. Storm Murphy found his rhythm and it was contagious. A couple Spider turnovers fresh off the Gustavson layup led to three point chances on the other end for Wofford. Offensive rebounds turned missed long jumpers into more chances for Murphy, making Richmond pay from with more threes. Sharpshooting and physical work on the glass evaporated the deficit, and a two minute scoring drought found the Spiders up by just a single possession with 4:45 to go.
The dry spell continued for nearly four minutes in total, and the Terriers capitalized. Missed free throws from Cayo, as well as more errant shots from him and Golden led to quick buckets for BJ Mack and Jones, whose jump hook over Burton put his team up 70-65.
Second half fouling plagued Wofford, and it came back to bite them in crunch time. Trailing by five, Golden flashed back to last year’s win over Old Dominion, drilling a set three pointer. Fighting for position, Burton got hacked down low, earning two free throws with Richmond having entered the double bonus.
Mack, Jones and Godwin had all earned their fourth fouls since trailing 65-64, and with more than ten team fouls they had no wiggle room to defend the rim. Golden and Burton repeatedly attacked the handcuffed rim protectors, setting the stage for Gilyard.
Dribbling up the court, Gilyard headed toward the left wing. With freshman guard Morgan Safford on him, the Spiders’ all-time steals leader put his head down, drove right, and in seemingly one fluid motion he stopped, crossed his dribble right to left, and reached his left foot back behind the three-point line. The right foot followed, and the 5’ 9” point guard popped into the air, draining the deep ball to go up by two possessions.
Jacob Gilyard sealing the game on offense, however? That would not be fitting of course.
Murphy, who finished with a game-high 21 points, saw a last-ditch three go in and out of the cylinder. Safford came up with a major offensive rebound, but Gilyard came out of nowhere as he always seems to, stealing the ball underneath the basket. It was not over, as he would then notch another steal, his fifth, from Jones off of an inbound in the final moments, officially bringing the nail biter to the close.
The former A-10 Player of the Year poured in 18 points, six assists, five rebounds and five steals, also reigniting his jumper to the tune of 4-7 3FG. “Make a couple threes, miss a couple layups, it’s just not working out for me so far,” Gilyard said post game in spite of his stellar performance. “It’s all confidence … I’ve made enough jump shots in my life, I’m just going to keep shooting and letting it fly” he continued.
Gilyard correctly acknowledges the changes in his shooting from game to game, indicative of the inconsistency of the Spiders through three games. After allowing 40 points to Morehead St in the first half of the season opener, start-to-finish effort was the primary objective heading into Kentucky.
Against the Wildcats, the defense was incredible for 40 minutes, but this time it was the offense that stalled through the first half. On Monday, the intermittent struggles this time infected Richmond on both sides of the ball.
“We just need to have more of a typical week. To have two practices, three practices, our shoot around and play. We just need to keep playing,” Head Coach Chris Mooney commented on being more consistent. His 19th-ranked team was on pause and had missed two games after three staffers received positive COVID-19 tests following the trip to Kentucky.
The scoring droughts and defensive miscommunications are something to monitor going forward, but not utterly concerning coming off a pause. There were, however, silver linings. Koureissi’s performance and improved floor spacing is proving he may be a serviceable alternative when the young Burton gets into foul trouble or looks befuddled offensively. Mooney acknowledged after the game that he should have played Koureissi more in the second half, failing to sub him in even one time.
Burton looked lost on the court in some moments, occasionally appearing as though he had never seen a ball screen before, or as if he had never run the Princeton-esque offensive system. “He’s young,” Gilyard said of Burton after the game. “I feel like once he starts to understand what we’re doing a little bit more on offense, and a little bit on defense, you know he’s got to communicate. I think he’s letting us communicate a little too much for him.”
To be fair, this was layered between Gilyard’s praise of the sophomore’s immense rebounding ability and potential. Burton is a nightly double-double threat who continues to prove he has no fear to launch the deep ball. He finished with 12 points (4-8 FG) and seven rebounds.
Richmond has a quick turn around with Northern Iowa coming to town on Wednesday before a road trip to #11 West Virginia on Sunday. The Spiders survived the scare to reach 3-0 this season and can avoid any knock to their national ranking with two solid showings this week. Make sure to tune in to ESPN 99.5 FM for a 6 pm showdown on Wednesday night in the Robins Center.