With Blake Francis back in the lineup for the second game of the Capital City Classic, the Richmond Spiders were able to break down the VCU Rams and their “Havoc” defense, winning a crucial A-10 matchup, 77-59. 

When the Spiders played the Rams earlier this season, they were short-handed offensively as redshirt junior guard Blake Francis was out with a fractured sternum. This put a lot of responsibility in the hands of junior Jacob Gilyard, as he had to constantly take the ball up the court against VCU's tough full-court press defense, and ultimately played a big role in the Spiders 87-68 defeat at the Siegel Center.

With Francis back in the lineup, the Richmond offense was able to break down VCU’s tough defense from the beginning of the game to its end, never allowing the Rams to lead. 

“He’s a great ball-handler, he’s a really competitive defender, and [he’s] a guy who can make shots,” said Spiders head coach Chris Mooney about Francis, who finished with 13 points. “Against a really good team like VCU, he kinda checks all the boxes that you’d love to have.”

Redshirt junior Grant Golden, who would finish with a 15 point, 10 rebound double-double, started things off with a layup less than one minute into the game, making it 2-0. A steal from redshirt junior Nick Sherod and a successful three-pointer caused the sold-out Robins Center to erupt, and made it 5-0 early. 

This game marked the third straight sold-out game at the arena, the team’s longest streak since the 2017-2018 season. 

Sherod opened up the game hot, making each of his first three three-pointers less than 4 minutes into the game. He finished with a team-high 23 points, along with 8 rebounds. 

“I wanted this one really bad,” said Sherod after a great performance in the win against city-rival VCU. “You know what’s on the line in terms of conference and personally I just wanted to come out and have a good game, play as hard as I can.”

Richmond would continue to pound VCU offensively, opening up the game 26-13. The Spiders shot 53.6% from the field in the first half, including 58.3% from behind the arc. The team also managed to out-rebound the Rams in the first half, 22-12.

Not only did the Spider’s offense click on all levels throughout the game, but their defense was phenomenal as well. 

Coming into the game, Richmond has been holding its opponents to 51.3 points per game in the past three games. This trend of great defense continued, as the Spiders held the Rams to only 59 points and a 34.3 shooting percent from the field. 

“I think it’s just all effort,” said Golden about the team’s recent strong defensive play. “I think the one thing, if anything, [is] hedging the ball screens. Trying to push those guys out to half court coming off ball screens -- it’s really helped us all around defensively.”

The Spiders also managed to force 16 turnovers, five of which came from steals by Gilyard. Gilyard currently leads the country in steals per game with 3.17. He finished with 10 points and six assists.

VCU starter and redshirt senior Marcus Evans was sidelined for the game as he suffered an injury this past Wednesday against George Mason. This caused first-year Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland to start in his place. 

In their first match against the Spiders, Hyland led the Rams with 15 points, every single one of which came from three-point field goals. Against the hot Richmond defense tonight, however, he was held to only three points, with the single basket coming in the second half. 

The Rams would slightly improve their shooting in the second half, while also surpassing the Spiders in rebounds in that half, finishing the game with 39 compared to Richmond's 40. The lead created in the first half by the Spiders, however, was too big for the Rams to fully come back.

Richmond moves to 19-6 overall, and 9-3 in conference-play, extending the team's winning streak to four. As the season begins to wind down, the Spiders sit on “the bubble” for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, according to college basketball analysts. 

A big win against VCU, another bubble team, helps a lot in terms of the Spiders' chances of securing a bid. The Spiders tip-off against the George Mason Patriots this Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Robins Center.

Contact sports writer Krystian Hajduczka @krystian.hajduczka@richmond.edu