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Spiders battle for Sweet 16 berth in their ‘last dance’

Richmond faces the Providence Friars at 6:10 p.m. ET on TNT

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Richmond vs Iowa
Richmond’s veteran experience has served as a big reason for its success this March.
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Richmond Spiders will play for a chance to advance to the Sweet 16 today, accomplishing what’s been in the works for over two years. This is what they came back for, a chance to cement themselves in Richmond basketball history.

The 2019-20 Richmond Spiders were destined to enter the 2020 NCAA Tournament as a threat to make some noise. The Spiders planned to go dancing, but the plan never came to fruition,

As conference tournaments ramped up, so did the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2020 NCAA Tournament was cancelled, along with the Cinderella aspirations for Chris Mooney’s squad.

“Everything that we had set out to accomplish was right there in front of us,” sixth-year senior Grant Golden said. “We were going to have an opportunity to go play up there in Brooklyn, so to have that all taken away certainly hurt a lot.”

As the NCAA offered an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Richmond’s quartet of seniors decided to take advantage of it.

Golden, Jacob Gilyard, Nathan Cayo and Nick Sherod all returned to Richmond to finish what they started.

Now, 738 days later, the last dance for the group of super seniors will come to fruition as they battle for a spot in the Sweet 16.

Richmond clinched its spot in the Round of 32 with an improbable upset over the Big Ten champion Iowa Hawkeyes.

The Hawkeyes entered March Madness as one of the hottest teams in the country, by winning the Big Ten tournament and defeating three NCAA Tournament teams along the way.

Big Ten or Atlantic 10, the Spiders didn’t care. They didn’t make the Big Dance just to pass through. Richmond came to win.

The Spiders trailed 24-20 with 6:13 to go in the first half before Tyler Burton took over. The Uxbridge, Mass., native recorded the last nine points of the half for Richmond, giving them a 29-28 halftime lead.

In the second half, the Spiders found themselves down 39-34 with 16:58 to go. They responded with an 11-0 run to take the lead for good. The Hawkeyes got within one point on two separate occasions, but Richmond never wavered.

Just like Richmond weathered the storm to close out the Atlantic 10 Championship, Chris Mooney and company did so again in Buffalo.

Gilyard knocked down four free throws in the final fifteen seconds to seal the 67-63 victory for Richmond. He powered the Spiders’ offense with 24 points, while Burton poured in 18 points and 11 rebounds.

“I was built for this,” Gilyard said. “This is who Jacob Gilyard is.”

Gilyard isn’t just a master in the clutch, he’s also the NCAA career leader in steals and the Richmond career leader in assists.

Richmond’s super seniors have etched themselves in the Spiders’ history books with their individual accomplishments, but a win on Saturday over Providence would put the 2021-22 Spiders team among the best in program history.

Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, Mooney understands the significance and impact of this group.

“These guys have done it and committed to Richmond,” he said. “As someone who is part of Richmond, that means that much more to me.”

Richmond faces a tough task in the Big East regular season champion Providence Friars, but the Spiders’ experience and chemistry gives them a great opportunity to finish what they all came back to do.

How to Watch

Matchup: No. 12 Richmond vs. No. 4 Providence

Date and Time: Saturday, March 19 at 6:10 p.m. ET

Location: KeyBank Center, Buffalo, N.Y.

TV: TNT

DraftKings Line: Providence -2.5, O/U 134

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