After the long wait, the University of Richmond Spiders started their much anticipated 2020-21 season campaign with an 82-64 victory over Morehead State University.
Led by senior forward Nathan Cayo, who scored a career-high 23 points on a perfect 10-10 from the court, the Spiders had an impressive offensive showing from start to finish, shooting the basketball 56% from the field as a team.
“My mentality was to be aggressive,” Cayo said after the victory. “We got great players on our team, so sometimes I’m going to get wide-open shots.
“I’m going to try and be aggressive every time I get the ball.”
Despite the strong offense, the Spiders struggled to pull away from Morehead from the start, giving up nine turnovers and allowing the Morehead Eagles to shoot a solid 54% from the field in the first half.
“We were moving kind of slowly in the beginning,” Cayo said. “It was the first game so it's to be expected.”
Midway through the first half, the Spiders were able to pick up their intensity and began attacking the basket, outscoring Morehead in the paint 32 to 20 in the first half. The spark was led by graduate students Grant Golden, forward, and Blake Francis, guard, who combined scored 20 points on 75% shooting in the first half.
“When they went zone, we were able to get shots right around the basket,” said head coach Chris Mooney. “When they turned up the heat on defense in man-to-man, we were able to get some layups and some easy shots. I was impressed with that because Morehead is a physical and very defensive-oriented team.”
Morehead did not go away, however, as Morehead guards DeVon Cooper, a redshirt junior, and Ta’lon Cooper, a sophomore, continued to drain shots late in the half, finishing the half with a combined 23. At halftime, the Spiders led Morehead 47-40.
Defensively, the second half was a different story for the Spiders, who forced 10 turnovers while holding Morehead to only 24 points.
“In the second half, we were just committed at a higher degree,” Mooney said. “It was more of an alert, physically, defensive unit that we held out there.”
Senior guard Jacob Gilyard, last year’s Atlantic-10 Defensive Player of the Year and the nation’s leader in steals, picked up right where he left off last season with three steals. In his UR debut, first-year guard Isaiah Wilson was impressive and all over the court on the defensive side of the ball, forcing two steals himself.
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“He is very quick but also his mentality is excellent,'' Mooney said of Wilson. “He dives on the floor. He takes charges in practice. When you are also quick as he is, those make you a dangerous defensive player and I think he has a chance to be an elite defender.”
Overall, the Spider’s offense remained explosive in the second half of the game, allowing them to pull away to an 82-64 victory.
The Spiders look to continue their momentum at Sunday’s big showdown against No. 10 Kentucky, at 1 p.m. on ESPN.
Contact sports writer Henry Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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