DENTON, TEXAS – With their top two scorers sidelined with injuries and one of the nation’s best shooting teams hitting from all over the court, things looked grim for the Spiders early in Wednesday night’s NIT opener against MAC regular-season champion Toledo. Richmond found itself down 13-4 just five minutes into the game and was a dismal 2-10 from the field. But the Spiders regrouped defensively, started to find their rhythm around the basket, and rallied to a 76-66 win to advance to next Thursday’s NIT Quarterfinals.
Richmond’s leading scorer Blake Francis missed his second straight game with an injury to his hip and back and the Spiders second-leading scorer Grant Golden did not play with a fractured finger.
“Everybody’s responsibility goes way up, and it would just be easy to hang our heads,” said Spiders coach Chris Mooney of his team playing short-handed. “But I think the guys met it head-on. There were so many plays that I thought showed tremendous effort and heart and it was great to see because we’re proud to be in the NIT and we certainly played like that tonight.”
Toledo stretched its lead to as many as 11 in the first half before Souleymane Koureissi and Jacob Gilyard combined to score nine straight for the Spiders and cut the Rockets lead to 33-32 less than a minute before halftime. Toledo scored the final five points before the break to take a 38-32 lead into the locker room.
After a layup at the 15:58 mark of the second half stretched Toledo’s lead to nine, the Spiders held the Rockets scoreless over the next five minutes while scoring 10 straight to take their first lead since 2-0 on a Matt Grace hook shot with 11:24 to play.
The teams would trade the lead 10 times over the next five-and-a-half minutes before Richmond gained control with a 9-0 run that included seven points by Nathan Cayo, giving the Spiders a 66-58 lead with less than three minutes remaining.
Moments later, a stepback three-pointer from Jacob Gilyard sealed the win. Gilyard finished with 18 points, five assists, four steals, and three rebounds.
“I think going into the game without Blake and Grant – we’ve had pressure on us all year, expectations. I think going into the game that kind of wasn’t on us. It felt like a weight was off our shoulders. Going into the game we were just excited to play.”
Gilyard broke a tie with Richmond Athletics Hall-of-Famer Greg Beckwith for the most assists in school history with his first assist of the game and finished the night with 578 career assists. He also passed Nebraska’s Cookie Belcher to move into fifth on the Division I career steals list, with 354.
The Spiders outscored Toledo 44-28 after halftime and held the Rockets to 9-32 (28.1%) shooting in the second half. Richmond’s 11-point comeback was UR’s second double-digit comeback win of the season along with a 10-point comeback victory against Northern Iowa on December 9.
Tyler Burton scored 18 points and recorded his second straight double-double, leading Richmond with 10 rebounds. Nathan Cayo scored 15 points before fouling out late in the game, and Souleymane Koureissi scored 10 points, his most in the last two seasons and matching his career high.
Richmond has reached the NIT Quarterfinals for the fourth time in program history and third under Mooney, along with 2015 and 2017. The Spiders will take on the winner of Saturday’s Saint Louis-Mississippi State game on March 25.
COURTESY RICHMOND ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS