After a pandemic spoiled a promising postseason run last March, the University of Richmond men’s basketball team finally got a chance to show the college basketball world what they had been missing as they knocked off No. 10 Kentucky in Rupp Arena, 76-64.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said forward Grant Golden, a graduate student.
Golden, who moved into 13th on UR’s all-time scoring list during the game, was one of three 1,000 point scorers in head coach Chris Mooney’s starting lineup. The historic win was the Spiders’ first in program history against a top-10 team on the road.
The contest was a tale of two halves, with the opening 20 minutes featuring a fierce defensive battle that saw UR senior guard Jacob Gilyard and graduate student Blake Francis, guard, shoot a combined 2-16 from the field. The length of Kentucky first-year guards Brandon Boston Jr. and Terrence Clarke posed problems for the Spiders on the perimeter. Boston and Clarke are both projected top-15 picks in next summer’s NBA Draft according to ESPN.
The Spiders rebounded in the final 20 minutes with a dominant showing on both sides of the ball, outscoring the Kentucky Wildcats 48-32. Spiders sophomore forward Tyler Burton was a spark plug, chipping in all of his 11 points in the second half as UR shot an improved 59% from the field. The momentum swing was capped off by a seven-minute stretch where the Spiders outscored Kentucky and gave themselves a 12-point lead they would never relinquish.
The run was inspired by a pesky Spider defense led by reigning A-10 Defensive Player of the Year Gilyard. He had five steals, including a highlight-reel deflection which he saved from going out of bounds with a spectacular behind-the-back outlet pass leading to a Francis layup. Despite a poor shooting night, Mooney praised Gilyard’s performance.
“We’ve had a really great history of guards here, and Jacob is just terrific,” Mooney said. “Even in a game where he doesn’t score, he is so valuable to us.”
The UR defense held the young Wildcats to a shooting night of their own, going 36% from the field and failing to make a single three-pointer. Despite attempting 33 free throws, the Wildcats shot just 61% from the charity stripe compared with UR’s 79%. Boston led Kentucky with 20 points.
Francis and senior forward Nathan Cayo both finished with 18 points. Cayo soared above Kentucky senior forward Olivier Sarr and Boston for a two-handed and-one jam with one minute and 24 seconds remaining. Francis all but ended the game with a three-pointer with under a minute left as the UR bench erupted with cheers.
It’s a statement victory for UR, who have made a strong case for a national ranking in next week’s Associated Press Poll.
“I think it says a lot for us to win by 12 without shooting well,” Mooney said. “That’s a really impressive stat.”
UR takes on the College of Charleston on the road in the TD Arena on Wednesday night. The game tips off at 7:00 p.m.
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