The University of Richmond’s men’s basketball team continues to the second round of the NCAA March Madness tournament after a 67-64 victory over the University of Iowa. Graduate student Jacob Gilyard led all scores with 24 points, including the final four points.
In the end, it had to be Gilyard. After six years, one global pandemic and playing every minute of the last four games – with only seconds left on the clock – it had to be Gilyard on the line to clinch the win.
True to form, he delivered.
With his four successful free throws, UR clinched a return to the second round. After the upset victory over the Big Ten Conference champs, UR will stay in Buffalo, New York, to face Providence College, 6:10 p.m. Saturday.
UR and Iowa tipped-off at 3:10 p.m. on Thursday in the first round of the NCAA tournament. With the game in Buffalo, New York, UR opened up the Robins Center for a free viewing party celebrating the Spiders’ return to the tournament after a decade absence. Iowa was the heavy favorite. Boasting the country's fourth ranked offense and topping the NCAA conference with nine tournament teams, ESPN gave UR only a 16% chance of victory.
Yet, soon after tip, it was clear the game was not going to be straightforward for the Hawkeyes.
While UR was struggling on the offensive end, the Spiders’ defense was stout. Time and time again, Iowa’s efficient offense was forced into bad shots at the end of long possessions. On the offensive end, UR’s primary scorer this season, junior Tyler Burton, and Gilyard were carrying the load just enough to keep the game within five-points throughout the first period, At halftime, the duo’s combined 23 points – paired with good team defense – gave UR a tenuous 29-28 lead.
“I don’t think we were scared to play at their pace,” Gilyard said in the post game press conference. “ We just needed to guard hard and make it tough. Obviously, it was going to be hard to guard Keegan [Murray], but we did a great job as a team.”
Keegan Murray is Iowa’s first-team All American, an award bestowed to the season’s top five players. Murray was Iowa’s leading scorer with 21 points and nine rebounds.
In the second half, Iowa seemed to regain its sparkle. After a flurry of points from Gilyard, Iowa took command. In two minutes, what had been a six-point lead for UR turned into a five-point lead for Iowa, both teams' largest leads up until that point. To stop the momentum, UR called a timeout.
Out of the timeout, the Spiders took the game back. With help from graduate Nathan Cayo, who finished the game with 13 second-half points, UR took the lead with 14 minutes left to play. They would never let Iowa back in front.
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From that point on, UR hit its stride. Consistent buckets and stops followed as Iowa continued to heave tough shots after long possessions.
“Overall, defense was our weakness this year,” junior Tyler Burton told reporters after the game.”To come out these last five games and dig in, it has come full circle.”
Every possession in the final five minutes seemed to propel the Spiders closer to victory. With each subsequent moment, the fans in the Robins Center started standing, sensing that UR’s surprise run may not be done.
Nevertheless, Iowa refused to go away. Every time Gilyard, Cayo and the rest of UR’s team seemed to put the game out of reach, Iowa’s offensive talent persisted. With a masterful out-of-bounds alley-oop to Iowa’s Murray, UR’s lead was cut to two with five seconds left on the clock.
Suddenly, what had seemed sure just 20 seconds earlier was in the balance. One fumble, a pass to the wrong player, or any other error could lead to a quick and definitive disaster.
Unfortunately for Iowa, the Spiders have had their fill of disasters.
Burton’s pass from the baseline found the tireless Gilyard in the backcourt and Iowa fouled. Gilyard marched down the court, with six years of pressure, expectation and growth behind him, to keep the dream of the last seven days alive.
With two makes and virtually no way to score five points in five seconds, Iowa’s frantic trip down the floor and the fumble to finish sent the Spider faithful in the Robins Center into a frenzy, streaming down the stands to their own dance floor.
“We are a tough team to scout,” Gilyard said when asked about the team's belief in their ability to keep winning. “The type of offense we run – the older guys we have – you know, it's tough to guard us. We are a confident bunch and last weekend showed that. One through twenty, all the guys on the team believe it.”
These Spiders, they just keep dancing.
Tune in at 6:10 EDST Saturday on TNT to catch the Spiders playing Providence, with a chance to advance to the Sweet 16 next week.
Contact copy editor Logan Jones-Wilkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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