The University of Richmond men’s basketball team defeated the Virginia Military Institute 69-48 in the team’s season opener on Nov. 7.
Around 6,000 people filled the Robins Center as UR played its first game of the 2022-2023 season. Last season, not only did the Spiders emerge as Atlantic 10 Conference champions, but the program also made its first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2011.
The first half started off slow for the Spiders. The team only shot 33.3% from the field, 27.8% from the three-point range and under 50% from the free-throw line. It was a low-scoring first half for UR, only putting up 28 points.
Despite the team’s shooting struggles, the Spiders’ defense held the Keydets to 21 first-half points, which gave UR a seven-point lead heading into halftime.
In the second half, the Spiders shot better from the field overall, 58.3%, and were able to pull ahead. Redshirt first-year guard Jason Nelson had an early steal and layup that gave UR a 31-21 lead and from there, the Spiders were able to distance themselves as the half progressed.
Graduate student forward Zae Bigelow also had a fast break dunk that gave the Spiders some momentum and raised the lead up to 13 at the time.
The Spiders found themselves up by 23 points with five minutes remaining and ended the night defeating the Keydets by 21 points, starting the season 1-0.
Three Spiders scored in double figures. Nelson — in his first collegiate game, as he was redshirted last season — had 13 points and 2 steals; Bigelow had 11 points off the bench; and senior forward Tyler Burton had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“I do think depth is something that stands out to me as a positive for us,” UR head coach Chris Mooney said in the postgame press conference. “We have a very versatile group of players, and so the lineups — Tyler [Burton] played a fair amount of guard tonight, we can play Matt [Grace] and Neal [Quinn] together or Matt at the center.”
After a slow first half, Bigelow said the team was able to settle in in the second half.
“We was kind of antsy,” he said. “The first half, we had a couple players that was rushing things and we just had to slow down, including myself, had to slow down. And then we start sharing the ball well and everything else fell into place.”
Having lost players that had been around the program for a while such as Grant Golden, Jacob Gilyard, Nathan Cayo and Nick Sherod — who all graduated last year — a new era begins for the Spiders as the team navigates its first couple games of the season.
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Not only are players like Nelson and redshirt sophomore Dji Bailey — who had seven points off the bench — being leaned on more and getting more playing time than last season, but the program also added three players by way of the transfer portal in senior Neal Quinn from Lafayette College, sophomore Jason Roche from The Citadel and Bigelow, from Wofford College.
The only constants from last season are Burton — who declared for the draft in April but opted to return to UR for his senior year — graduate forward Matt Grace and graduate guard Andre Gustavson, who also opted to return to UR for their fifth years, and graduate guard Connor Crabtree, who did not play against VMI from a finger injury.
But, despite these roster changes, the Spiders emerged victorious, taking care of business with a crowd full of UR fans cheering the team on.
It being his first game as a Spider, Bigelow said he loved the energy in the Robins Center.
“It gives us that extra push we need when we going through a little slump and the energy was incredible,” he said. “It bled through our whole team and it got us going when we needed it most.”
UR’s next game is at home against the University of Northern Iowa on Nov. 11. Before the game, the team’s A-10 championship banner will be unveiled and hung in the Robins Center.
Contact sports writer Jimmy James at email@example.com.
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