The University of Richmond men’s basketball team defeated Saint Louis University 81-78 at the Robins Center on Feb. 22.
The Spiders took on the second-placed Billikens for their first game since head coach Chris Mooney had to step back because of a scheduled heart surgery. The interim head coach, Peter Thomas, led the team following the news of Mooney’s absence. Before the game, the Robins Center staff put up tweets from the community praying and wishing Mooney and his family the best.
The first half did not start as planned for the Spiders. Saint Louis jumped into an early lead, making most of the 3-pointers they took. UR battled back with their own 3-pointers, but could only tie the game before Saint Louis pulled away. Although UR took more shots, the Billikens were more clinical, scoring 55% of their field goals to the Spider’s 29%. Saint Louis ended the half leading 36-27.
UR started the second half brightly, scoring eight uncontested points. However, the Billikens called a timeout and went back to dominating the game and gained a 15-point lead over the Spiders. UR battled until the last five minutes of the game, bringing the score as close as six points apart.
Thomas called a timeout that changed the game. The Spiders started defending the 3-pointers that Saint Louis had been making all game. UR clawed their way back until the final 25 seconds of the game, where they got their first lead. With such little time left on the clock, the Spiders were able to hold on and win the game 81-78.
“It was a collective effort tonight,” Thomas said. “I’m really proud of the group.”
Thomas’s words echoed through the court as four players contributed double digits to the game. Senior forward Tyler Burton scored 20 points, graduate forward Matt Grace contributed 15 points, sophomore guard Jason Roche scored 10 points and redshirt first-year guard Jason Nelson scored 17 points, including three buzzer-beaters.
“Freshman year is going to be hard,” Thomas said about Nelson. “There’s going to be ups and downs and you will have to push through that wall. I think he did that tonight and has done that over the last couple of weeks.”
Thomas believed that the team took too many 3-pointers in the first half but was happy with the team's 17 total 3-pointers they had made.
“It was an honor to be out there as a coach,” Thomas said. “It was an adjustment for the guys just not looking over and seeing coach Mooney. We were getting our feet under us in the first half, and then we played a little bit more [of] what was Richmond basketball in the second half.”
Thomas believed that they established a little belief after the result that they could win. He acknowledged that it would be hard without Mooney here but that they could still play like they wanted to play.
The men’s basketball team is now 7-8 in their conference (14-14 overall) and travel to play rival Virginia Commonwealth University at 7 p.m. Feb. 24.
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