Despite a pair of second half comeback attempts, the University of Richmond men’s basketball team lost in a rematch with the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams by a score of 69-66 Saturday afternoon in Robins Stadium.
First-year guard Jake Wojcik had the opportunity to tie the game with a 3-pointer in the game’s final seconds, but hit the rim and sent Spider fans home disappointed.
The Spiders trailed by 10 entering halftime, and strong 3-point shooting in the opening minutes of the half propelled them to a brief lead. Their offense struggled in the final ten minutes, as VCU reobtained its lead and controlled the game for its majority.
The last second comeback attempt, driven by Wojcik and sophomore guard Jacob Gilyard, also proved unsuccessful.
“If we won I would be much happier but I couldn’t be any prouder of our guys,” Richmond head coach Chris Mooney said. “I couldn’t be more proud to be with this team and these guys.”
Both teams had a slow start to the game offensively. Richmond shot at a rate of only 20 percent for the first six minutes of the game but trailed only 4-2.
Gilyard shot a deep 3-pointer to give the Spiders their first lead of the game but VCU responded with a pair of layups on two of their next possessions to go back up.
Despite only shooting 3-8 as a team, Richmond trailed by only four points at the ten minute mark. Gilyard was the lone initial highlight for the Spiders, scoring five of their seven points.
Sophomore forward Nathan Cayo drove to the basket to cut the deficit to two points but VCU responded with scores on their next four possessions to go up 21-11 and finally broke away from the Spiders.
Richmond looked like it could regain momentum after a 3-pointer from graduate forward Noah Yates, followed up by a basket from Cayo.
Yates scored a pair of 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to cut VCU’s lead to 25-24, and got the Robins Center crowd to stand up.
The momentum was short lived, however. The Spiders turned over the ball on their next two possessions to VCU players Issac Vann and Marcus Evans, allowing the two to each break away for a dunk.
VCU capitalized on the momentum further, going on a 9-0 run in the half’s final two minutes. Another VCU dunk, this time from forward Corey Douglas, caused the crowd to erupt in a “VCU” chant, as the Spiders appeared to lose part of their home court advantage.
Richmond entered halftime trailing 34-24.The entirety of Richmond’s scoring in the first half came from just three players. Yates led the trio with nine points, and Cayo and Gilyard had eight and seven respectively.
The Spiders struggled from the free throw line in the first half, going 0-6 and had 13 turnovers.
“We were not as aggressive and assertive and we needed to be,” Mooney said. “That resulted in the turnovers.”
Two 3-pointers from Gilyard and first-year Andre Gustavson cut the deficit to six points early in the second half. Gilyard would go on to make the Spiders’ first two free throws of the game, as the Spiders trailed by four with 15 minutes to go.
After a layup from Spider first-year Souleymane Koureissi cut the deficit to two points, redshirt sophomore Grant Golden stole the ball from VCU, allowing Gustavson to get the ball for a game tying breakaway layup.
Another layup from Gilyard on the next possession put the Spiders up 45-43 near the 11-minute mark, reigniting the Spider fans in attendance, but the lead did not last long.
A 3-pointer from junior De’Riante Jenkins put VCU back up and another from junior Malik Crowfield made the score 51-46.
VCU maintained its lead for the rest of the half. After VCU went up 60-52 with five minutes left, the Spiders took a time-out as VCU chants briefly resurged in the stadium.
The Spiders looked to make another comeback attempt after a 3-pointer from Wojcik cut the lead to three with just 38 seconds remaining. The Spiders fought to have one last opportunity, but Wojcik could not make the potential-game-tying three.
Gilyard led Spiders in scoring on the night with 23 points. Cayo, who fouled out with 1:11 left in the game, was second with 12 points.
"[VCU] is the best team in our conference," Gilyard said. "If we can play with them we can play with anybody."
Grant Golden, who was honored before the game for being the second Spider in history to score 1000 points before the end of his sophomore year, only had eight points and was 3-10 from the free throw line. Mooney stressed Golden's importance to the team even when he struggles.
“Grant prepares and works like a 5’10 walk-on,” Mooney said. “There’s nobody in America we’d rather have.”
The Spiders’ record fell to 12-17. They next travel to Amherst, Massachusetts, to play UMass Wednesday night. Their final home game of the season is at 6 p.m. on March 9 against Davidson.
Contact sports editor Andrew Wilson at email@example.com.