Even though the University of Richmond men's basketball team lost during the College Basketball Invitational semifinal last week, its players said they felt the season ended on a high note.
The 81-69 home loss to the University of Texas at El Paso marked the end of the Spiders' 20-16 season, their first 20-win season since 2003-04.
With five freshmen and three sophomores on the 16-player roster, the team had plenty of room to grow at the beginning of the season. It took the younger players some time to adjust to playing college basketball, coach Chris Mooney said.
The Spiders struggled to hold onto late-game leads during the early part of the season, suffering three-point losses to Old Dominion University and Virginia Military Institute, as well as a one-point loss to Virginia Commonwealth University.
"[In the future] if we want to be good, those are three games that we've got to win," said junior guard Ryan Butler.
Mooney and his players attributed the close losses to the team's lack of experience at the season's start.
"We're still fairly young this year," Mooney said. "It's obviously harder when you start something. As you get more and more comfortable in your situation you get a little bit better, and I think that's the way we were as a team.
"I don't think we were ever bad, I just think we were pretty good and I think we improved ourselves and were able to win more."
The team also had to deal with serious lineup changes.
Junior center Dan Geriot missed the entire season with a torn knee ligament. Geriot, who averaged more than 14 points and five rebounds per game last season, suffered the injury going for a layup during a summer league game.
Not being able to play was difficult to handle at first, Geriot said.
"You're losing close games and you're thinking, 'Well, if I was playing maybe we could have won,'" he said, "and then it's hard just because I'm not enjoying a win. I'm not enjoying everything as much as I would if I was playing."
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Around December, after the first five or six games, Geriot said he accepted that he couldn't play and decided to focus on his rehabilitation, he said.
Watching from the sidelines helped Geriot make judgments about the pace of the game.
"I had that time off," he said, "and just watching all the basketball, I feel like I can just see more openings and the game's a little slower, so I think I'll be better."
Senior Jarhon Giddings started at center every game this season.
"It took some time to adjust and kind of learn each other," he said, "but I think towards the end of the season...it really started to click and we were able to finish the season strong."
The Spiders ended the season winning nine of their last 13 games, beating Xavier University, the George Washington University and St. John's University. They also celebrated two victories against the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Mooney and his team agreed that the Spiders' 80-75 victory versus Xavier was a season highlight. Junior guard David Gonzalvez said he was glad the Spiders finally beat the Musketeers.
"It still hasn't registered that we beat Xavier," he said. "It just feels like they're unbeatable because my freshman year they spanked us.
"They spanked us every year. It just feels like they're superior."
Junior guard Kevin Hovde noted the importance of the team's solid performance toward the end of the season. After a long season, winning games during the last stretch isn't easy, he said.
"The fact that we were able to really grind it out and win nine out of our last 13 just shows the kind of team that we are," he said. "A lot of teams hit rough patches at the end and it's hard to put together solid winning streaks ... so I think the fact that we were able to do that shows a lot about the kind of guys that we have.
"That's the best thing that could have happened going into next year."
When asked about the campus-wide discussion of student attendance at basketball games, Mooney said he had always thought it had been fine.
"I think the talk of the attendance became kind of a hot topic," he said, "and I'm sure myself and our staff and our players noticed that, but when you're playing an A-10 team at home you have enough worries to begin with."
Players agreed that they didn't think about attendance, focusing on their games instead. They also realized students had a lot to do and couldn't make games their first priorities.
Giddings and fellow seniors Mark McGonigal and Duncan McLean said they were excited by the possibilities for next year's team.
"Kevin Anderson is going to be a problem [for opponents] for the next two years," Giddings said. "Nobody is going to like seeing him suit up on the other side."
McLean said he wished he could play on the team next year.
"They're going to be really good," he said.
McLean is still deciding what he wants to do next year, while McGonigal expressed interest in law enforcement, specifically the FBI or DEA. Giddings said he intended to look into continuing his basketball career, possibly playing professionally overseas, he said.
Contact staff writer Guv Callahan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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