Richmond’s experience outplays Minutemen youth in 79-65 conference matchup

All four of Spider’s senior starters thrive

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Megan Lee/VCU

By Joey Aliberti, Assistant Sports Editor

Seventeen days off for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team proved prevalent in Tuesday night’s 79-65 loss against Richmond.

The Spiders (13-5, 6-3 Atlantic 10) started four seniors, all of which provided major contributions towards the victory over UMass (7-5, 6-3 A-10).

Blake Francis led all players in scoring with 20 points, 17 of which were scored in the first half. Francis made four of his six three-point attempts in the first half, making way for a comfortable 43-32 lead heading into the final 20 minutes of action.

Nathan Cayo made his mark in the second half, adding 14 of his own points in the final period, totaling 18 on the night.

Center Grant Golden finished with 16 points, five rebounds and five assists and no turnovers to pad the assist-to-turnover ratio for Richmond.

“That’s a special talent for a big man to have,” Blake Francis said of Golden’s passing ability. “It makes him more dangerous when he can pass and see over double-teams… he definitely makes everyone better on the team.”

While the Spiders nearly topped a 3-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, the Minutemen did not find as much success in that category. Matt McCall’s Minutemen garnered 11 assists in comparison to 13 turnovers, four of which can be credited to Jacob Gilyard steals.

Gilyard leads the nation in steals per game at 3.5 and showed no signs of slowing that down on Tuesday night. Gilyard struggled from the field, just shooting 1-of-8, but was able to fill the stat sheet regardless. Nine points, a career-high nine rebounds and six assists to compliment the four steals was how the night finished for the 5-foot-9 senior point guard.

“That’s an incredible stat line,” said Richmond coach Chris Mooney. “…He along with Blake [Francis] making the right calls and making decisions on defense. Those things are so important and valuable, and his stat sheet reflects that.”

Tre Mitchell and Noah Fernandes came off the bench against the Spiders with limited minutes Tuesday night. Mitchell has been recovering from a shoulder injury and Fernandes a wrist injury of his own, though Mooney did not realize the severity of Mitchell’s injury was to the extent that he would see his playing time nearly cut in half.

“We were anticipating [Mitchell] starting and playing 35 minutes and worked so much on double-teaming him and rotating out of that,” Mooney said. “To have it that he hardly played in the first half — and they move the ball very fast when he’s not in there – I thought we did a good job handling that and covering up for one another.”

UMass relies heavily on its full-court press and varying defensive looks, something that the experience of the Spiders was able to overcome with little adversity. The Minutemen finished the game with two steals and forced six turnovers overall, which is far off from their season averages. UMass averages 7.7 steals and forces 16.1 turnovers per contest, which rank 25th and 52nd nationally.

“We can handle that,” Mooney said of the Minutemen’s defensive philosophy. “We can be aggressive still and play well and do good things. With a younger team those things would be a little more difficult. I don’t think we tried to exploit anything, but we did depend on our veteran players to recognize what was going on and to execute.”

A senior-loaded Richmond team showed too much poise with everything McCall and his coaching staff were throwing at them on the defensive end, while also being able to seamlessly adjust to the limited presence of Mitchell to help prove that its name does belong at the top of the Atlantic 10, along with NCAA tournament consideration.

UMass has its last regular season game of the season against St. Louis next Monday for one more opportunity to try and prove its ability to hang at the top of the A-10 standings.

Joey Aliberti can be reached via email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JosephAliberti1