A few weeks ago, the Richmond Spiders were afterthoughts in a mediocre A-10 conference. The Spiders weren’t embarrassing themselves, but they weren’t on NCAA tournament radars either.
After losing two consecutive games to conclude regular season play, the Spiders limped into the A-10 Conference Tournament as the sixth seed. There’s a famous saying that claims “defense wins championships,” and the Richmond Spiders are proving that this famous testament holds validity. The Spiders won three games in three days to capture their first A-10 Championship since 2011, and only their second in program history. In each matchup, the Spiders held their opponents to fewer than 65 points.
On Thursday afternoon, Richmond completed the largest upset of the 2022 NCAA tournament thus far. Again, the Spiders got it done on the defensive end.
The fifth-seeded Iowa Hawkeyes entered the Big Dance as the fourth-highest scoring team in college basketball, averaging 84.6 points per game. But even they weren’t able to solve the puzzle that is Richmond’s defense. After the Hawkeyes took the lead with a run to start the second half, the Spiders regained the advantage with over 14 minutes remaining. From that point forward, they never conceded the lead again.
While Richmond’s identity is predicated on its defense, the Spiders still have some certified bucket-getters. Five-foot-nine senior guard Jacob Gilyard is well on his way to becoming a March darling. After leading the Spiders through the A-10 tournament, Gilyard had another huge outing against the Hawkeyes scoring 24 points to go along with six rebounds and six assists.
When asked about the team’s recent success after the game, Gilyard said: “I mean, we’re just a resilient group. You saw it last weekend, you saw it today.”
Gilyard has emerged as a focal point on this veteran group. He is joined in the starting lineup by three fellow seniors and a junior. Throughout the regular season, the Spiders were led in scoring by junior forward Tyler Burton. Burton also had a huge performance against the Hawkeyes, scoring 18 points and securing 11 rebounds.
The Spiders were able to upset the Hawkeyes, and you can make the argument that it didn’t require anything near an ideal performance. Forward Grant Golden, who averaged over 14 points per game in the regular season, was held to just four points. The Spiders also only converted on five of seventeen three point attempts. At a success rate of just 29.4%, this was well below their season average.
It took a few months, but the Spiders have embraced their identity of a gritty, resilient team that plays astute defense.
When asked about his veteran squad following the upset victory over Iowa, Richmond head coach Chris Mooney emotionally said: “What I love about our group, is that in an era of great players and teams, they’ve stayed committed to Richmond, committed to us.”
Richmond will meet Providence in the Round of 32. The Spiders will head into the matchup as underdogs, but that is nothing new for this group. If anything, over the past week they’ve proven that this is a role they thrive in. The players in that locker room probably wouldn’t want it any other way.
“We’re confident in ourselves and we think we can beat anybody,” Gilyard said after stunning Iowa. We can’t predict how far this run will go, but no team should want to tangle with the Richmond Spiders right now.