For the first time since T.J. Cline departed campus, the Spiders clinched a double-bye in the Atlantic-10 Tournament with an 80-63 victory over Davidson, sweeping the Wildcats on the season. Nick Sherod led the Spiders with 19 points on five threes, 17 of which came in the last 20 minutes.
Kellan Grady and Jon Axel-Gudmundsson were on fire from three in the month of February, and they came out of the gates red hot. The reigning A-10 Player of the Year rose up over Blake Francis for three on the first possession, and Grady drove easily down the lane on Gilyard the next time down. Sophomore Matt Grace botching an open look at the rim after an offensive rebound told the story of the first 6:24, which saw Richmond shoot 3-9 FG and trail 13-7.
The Spiders caught some fire down 19-9 behind a spark from sophomore Andre Gustavson. Gustavson tipped in a Grant Golden miss, and on the next set attacked freshman Hyunjung Lee, drawing the foul. Four straight points from Jacob Gilyard with just under 11 minutes left capped off a 10-0 Richmond run. An and-one finish from Golden soon after gave his team its first lead of the game, 22-21 with 7:42 to play in the half.
Both offenses sputtered over the final seven minutes. Richmond looked especially uncomfortable when Golden left the floor with his second foul. The Spiders committed five turnovers between the 7:42 and 2 minute marks.
A Carter Collins half-court shot at the buzzer sent Davidson into the locker room up 34-30, largely a result of the Spiders’ lack of production from outside. They shot 0-4 from behind the arc with no attempts from Blake Francis, who was using most of his energy flying around with Grady on the defensive end.
The first eight minutes of the second half were back and forth, however the game changed before Richmond ever took a lead. A couple minutes in, Sherod grabbed a strong defensive rebound and kicked it up to Francis in transition. He rose up from the left wing and drilled the Spiders’ first three of the game, cutting the deficit to one point. Another Francis three from a Gilyard inbound tied the game at 47 a piece with 12 minutes to go.
After a two point first half for Nick Sherod, the 6’ 4” redshirt junior took over the last 10 minutes. Out of the post, Golden found him wide open from deep, Sherod’s first of five threes. Three more deep balls from him over the next five minutes put Richmond up 69-59 with 4:12 to play. Heating up at that midway point in the half was critical for a group yet to win a game when trailing with five minutes left in conference play.
Richmond tried to run out some clock with under a minute to go, but McKillop had his team trap the ball despite trailing by double digits. That was enough for Gilyard to put the cherry on top, nailing a corner triple to give the Spiders 80 points and a feeling of total dominance, despite losing for 21 minutes of the game.
Nick Sherod’s second half heroics were the most memorable, but Blake Francis quietly had an excellent game. Rather than duking it out with Kellan Grady shot for shot, he worked hard against ball screens on defense, moved the ball through the sets and let the game come to him. Finishing the game shooting 2-3 3FG and still managing 18 points is a huge sign of maturity for a player that has grown accustomed to launching at a high volume.
Grant Golden, who did not record a rebound, looked patient and alert in the post for all 22 of his minutes. Davidson coach Bob McKillop agreed, especially after Golden struggled in their last meeting in January. “I think that Grant Golden was sensational in the way the ball went through him. Whether he scored or whether he delivered to someone out on the arc, or whether he actually stopped somebody inside on the defensive end,” McKillop noted. Golden finished with 15 points (5-6 FG) and 3 assists.
Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Semifinalist Jacob Gilyard did not have his best shooting night, but he was playmaking like Steve Nash. He flicked a gorgeous no look pass from the top of the key to Nathan Cayo for an easy two under the basket early in the second half. Just a couple sets later, he penetrated the Wildcats’ defense, drawing the help defender down low. That freed up Matt Grace, who Gilyard found with a jaw dropping behind-the-head pass, another of his eight assists on the night.
The win secures a double-bye for the Spiders in the A-10 tournament and keeps afloat their hopes of a potential at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. They still likely sit on the wrong side of the bubble, however a Quad 2 win at Duquesne on Friday could push their resume over the edge, pending results of the conference tournament.
Chris Mooney made it clear that while he’s aware of bracketology, Richmond can only guarantee it goes dancing with a conference title. “The saying they use is ‘punch your ticket,’ and that can only happen in Brooklyn on Sunday. It is a committee of 10 people who look at an incredible amount of information… All the best teams are trying to go, and it’s just too much to really focus on,” Mooney said after the game.
The Spiders wrap up the regular season Friday night on the road against Duquesne for their only contest of the year. Catch that one at 7 p.m. right here on 99.5 FM and 950 AM ESPN Richmond.