SAN ANTONIO —The faces of the University of Richmond players said it all as they walked off the court: dazed and confused as they were beaten by an unquestionably more talented team Friday night in the Sweet 16 here at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Coming into this game, much of Richmond's focus was on Kansas' Morris twins and their presence down low. In reality, it was Kansas' outside game that hurt the Spiders.
Kansas connected on nearly half of its three-pointers, which helped it to end the careers of Richmond's five seniors — a bitter end to what had been stellar careers. The three four-year seniors in that group were responsible for 91 wins and included one of the school's best players in Kevin Anderson.
His 13-point performance against the Jayhawks gives him a career-total of 2,165 points, good for second all-time on the school's scoring list. As he left the game with 1:44 left in the game, he walked down the bench receiving high fives from all his teammates. He never hid his face, instead staring at the game action along with the rest of his teammates with the same stunned look.
"We're a tough group of guys," senior Dan Geriot said. "We're resilient. We've been through a lot as a group. We've put a lot of work into building this program to where it is so there's going to be no hanging our heads."
Richmond entered the game brimming with confidence after defeating No. 5 Vanderbilt in the second round and then No. 13 Morehead State in the third round at Pepsi Center in Denver to get to only its second-ever Sweet 16.
But that confidence could only bring Richmond so far. Richmond opened up an early 5-4 lead — its only lead of the game — and its bravado and emotion showed on the court. But Kansas then went on a 27-4 run and put Richmond in a big deficit early.
Despite that nearly insurmountable hole, Richmond never lost confidence in its ability to comeback.
"What we were trying to do when they got their big lead was chip away at it," Anderson said. "We chipped away at it a little bit, maybe got it to 14 or 15, but they went on another run; that's what great teams do. Credit to them, they never let us get back into the game."
Considering what these seniors had to deal with when they got to Richmond, it should be no surprise that they never let a 20-point deficit to the second-best team in the nation rattle them. The season before they arrived at the school, Richmond had won eight games in coach Chris Mooney's first year. They improved that record to 16-16 the following year, including a berth in a post-season tournament.
Their sophomore year, they once again improved their team's record and played in the second-straight College Basketball Invitational after the season. Their junior year was when the breakthrough came for them, as they reached the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament title game and the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004.
They continued to improve the Richmond program this year as they won Richmond's first A-10 tournament title and went to the NCAA tournament in back-to-back years for only the second time in school history. They went to the Sweet 16 for the second time in school history before losing 77-57 to Kansas, the No. 1 seed in the Southwest bracket and the No. 2 team in the nation.
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"I told them I love them and I appreciate everything they've done for the University of Richmond," Mooney said about what he told his players after the loss.
Kansas proved too much for one of Richmond's best teams in school history to handle. Richmond spent much of the week preparing for Kansas' combination of twins, Markieff and Marcus Morris, who have given teams trouble all season long. Neither had a statistically-stellar game (Marcus scored 13 points and had seven rebounds, while Markieff scored five and had seven rebounds, as foul trouble limited him to 17 minutes) but their presence created problems for the Spiders.
Richmond initially defended the twins by doubling them as soon as they touched the ball. But as doubling a player does, it left a Jayhawk open on the perimeter and he was often found for an open three pointer.
"When they skip pass in transition, they usually dunk the ball or they throw it inside to the Morris twins," Geriot said. "But it was more [Brady] Morningstar and [Tyrel] Reed hitting threes. That's a disaster for us."
On offense for Richmond, it wasn't much easier. Kansas played a physical style of defense that gave Richmond players trouble to find an open shot. Even if one was open, Richmond struggled to make it as it shot 33 percent for the game, including just 4 of 26 on three pointers.
"In the beginning, in the first 10 minutes of the game, we weren't really focused on running our offense," Geriot said. "We were playing into the physicality. Playing into the physicality of bumps instead of cutting and doing what we usually do."
Anderson, the team's point guard and captain, took much of the blame for that.
"It's my job to calm the guys down," he said. "I didn't do a good job of that and I think that's what it was."
That lack of offensive rhythm led to Kansas being able to get out in transition and score easy points. The game was played at a faster pace than Mooney preferred as his team was never able to slow the Jayhawks down.
"We were unable to slow them down in any way," Mooney said. "If they weren't making transition baskets, they were jumping into their offense. We were never able to get our defense set which is one of our strengths."
Despite the bitter end to what had been a promising run in the tournament, Richmond was able to set a school record with 29 wins. The trip to the Sweet 16 also brought an energy and excitement about basketball to campus that hadn't been seen in a long time.
It will be those memories that in the end will stick with these players.
"It is hard to swallow right now, but I am sure tomorrow or a week from now, it will be great to look back and think we were in San Antonio and in the Sweet 16," Geriot said.
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