By Noah Goldberg
After an up and down season, the Spiders’ year came to an end in Brooklyn on day two of the conference tournament with a narrow loss to St. Louis.
Richmond came into the Barclays Center as losers of their last four regular season games, including a defeat at the hands of the 13th-seeded Minutemen. The Spiders ended with a 6-12 conference record, which gave them the 11th seed in the A-10 Tournament as St. Joe’s held the head-to-head tie breaker.
Missing the first bye by one seed, Richmond was set to face Fordham (14th A-10) on Wednesday. The two teams last played on February 20th in the Robins Center in a 72-69 Spider victory behind Andre Gustavson’s best game of the year.
Wednesday night’s game felt like a contest between Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers and the VCU Rams. Fordham and Richmond were both below 35% from the field and below 30% from the three point line in the low scoring affair.
Fresh off of a Third Team All-Conference selection, Grant Golden could not find any rhythm on either end of the floor. While he had a team high 11 rebounds and seven assists, the redshirt sophomore scored a mere nine points on 4-14 shooting and was 1-4 at the free throw line.
Scoring wasn’t just limited for Golden though. The A-10’s leading scorer, Jacob Gilyard struggled to find the bottom of the net all night. He was scoreless in the first half and shot 0-7 from the field.
With an over under of 134.5, a 23-18 halftime lead for Richmond had under bettors smiling.
The second half included slightly more scoring but three point shooting was still lacking.
Sophomore Nathan Cayo looked more comfortable on the interior as the game progressed. He pulled down seven rebounds (three offensively) and had a team high 15 points, the only starter in double figures for the Spiders.
Noah Yates had a solid game off the bench. He scored 10 points on 50% shooting for a reserve unit that has struggled to provide scoring all season.
Despite going 0-8 from deep and 2-14 FG in the game, Jacob Gilyard showed up when it mattered most.
With about six seconds in the game, Cayo fouled the Rams’ Antwon Portley as Richmond led 50-48. After Portley hit both free throws, Richmond had no timeouts and was forced to go coast to coast.
Gilyard then brought the ball up the court quickly. Splitting two defenders, he penetrated and was able to find Cayo under the basket for a layup with .2 seconds left, sealing a victory.
Next up was St. Louis on Thursday. The Spiders had upset the Billikens on the road in January, winning 84-81.
The two teams have a very different style of play. Richmond is one of the worst rebounding teams in the country, who at times struggle to play consistent defense. The Billikens are the best rebounding team in the A-10 and are a very physical defensive team, especially with Hasahn French down low.
Richmond controlled the first half and a big part of that was competing on the glass. In the first 20 minutes, they were only outrebounded 15-14.
Grant Golden was doing work on the block. He had 13 points in the first half but the fluidity between him and cutters wasn’t quite there. He finished the game with 20 points but only three assists.
Behind Golden’s efficient shooting, Richmond entered the break leading 36-30 over the sixth-seeded Billikens.
Richmond got a quick four points out of the break, jumping to a 10 point lead in the first 42 seconds of the half. However, Hasahn French and St. Louis began taking over the offensive glass, drawing the deficit down to 49-47 with 11 minutes left in the game.
Playing clean first half, in which they fouled just once, Richmond was sloppy down the stretch. They put the Billikens into the bonus with 6:51 remaining and with more turnovers, a 12-2 St. Louis run had the game tied at 62 with 4:45 left.
Richmond could not seem to get a defensive rebound in the final minutes. After a 5-0 run by the Billikens, UR couldn’t quite climb back. Jacob Gilyard failed to get a last-second three to fall as the Spiders were knocked out of the tournament 71-68.
The Spiders’ two tournament games were very representative of their season as a whole. They showed that they could play with some of the best and also play down to the level of the worst. They blew late leads (led by double digits against St. Louis in the second half), but also closed out a tie game on a near buzzer beater against Fordham.
The real take away from a wild two days in New York is that this team is very young and has a lot of talent. They certainly have the ability to be successful as they gain experience, but to do that they’ll need to become stronger on the glass, improve their defensive consistency, and work on consistent perimeter shooting.