After slow start, young Richmond squad finds winning groove
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Richmond coach Chris Mooney can laugh now at how much things have changed in a month.
Since starting the season a very un-Richmond-like 3-13, the Spiders have won six of their last seven.
“It’s not unusual to have recruiting meetings,” the Spiders’ coach in his 13th season said after a come-from-behind, 77-76, home win against VCU on Wednesday night, “but it is unusual to have them during the second half of games.”
That’s no longer a problem. The Spiders (9-14, 7-4 Atlantic 10) are tied for third with Saint Bonaventure (17-6 overall) and will go on the road to face the Bonnies on Saturday. Saint Bonaventure has won nine of 10 at home.
Richmond’s poor start included six losses by six points or fewer, and a few head scratchers.
NIT quarterfinalists just last season, they lost at home by 33 to Jacksonville State, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference, in their second game of the season when they were without floor leader Khwan Fore. They got blistered by 29 at Wake Forest , one of the ACC’s weakest teams, on Dec. 2, but then took Boston College, another ACC team, to overtime before losing 78-73 just before Christmas.
The Spiders’ fortunes began to change when they won 78-68 at George Washington on Jan. 13, then followed it up four days later with a 67-52 win at VCU , the cross-town rival that had won six in a row and 10 of the last 12 in the series.
Wednesday night’s victory against the Rams, when Richmond erased a 12-point deficit with less than nine minutes to go, gave the Spiders their first sweep of their home-and-home with VCU since 2015. The victory also got them back on the winning track after a loss to George Mason.
Fore clinched the victory by making a free throw with 3.8 seconds left.
“I don’t even know if I can explain that, but it’s an amazing feeling,” the junior guard said, asked how a team that started 3-13 could improve so dramatically. “We know we can make something happen but we still have a lot of work to do.”
From Mooney’s point of view, there’s nothing sudden or even surprising about the changing results for a young team.
“When you see the losses become wins, it seems like there was a great turnaround, something that sparked it, and confidence certainly has a lot to do with it,” he said, “but more, it’s been a steady improvement for our team.”
The Spiders have five freshmen and sophomores who are very prominent in their rotation, three juniors and a lone senior who plays sparingly.
Among the freshmen is 5-foot-9 Jacob Gilyard, a lightning-fast guard whose three steals per game and 38 minutes per game are both tops in the Atlantic 10 in conference games. He’s fourth on the team in scoring (10.7 ppg), but capped an 18-point, six-assist, five-steals performance against VCU with a critical steal of an inbounds pass and layup to tie the game at 76 with 31 seconds left.
The three Spiders scoring more are all sophomores, but Gilyard brings much more than scoring.
“When you are recruited, you think you want the responsibility, and when it happens, it’s a lot, and he’s doing much more than I’d have to say most freshmen in the country. But he has confidence in his game and that’s contagious, I think, because of the position that he plays and the way that he plays,” Mooney said. “It’s contagious.”
So, too, are enjoyable bus rides. Three of the five victories in the winning streak came on the road.
When they trailed VCU, guard Nick Sherod said, they knew they could win because they’d done it before.
It’s the sign of a team that’s growing up.
“When you can go out there and feel confident and attack practice because you are coming off of a win and know that certain things that you did worked, you feel that,” Mooney said. “That’s tremendous.”
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