Receiving 40 votes in the preseason AP Top-25 voting, the Spiders just locked themselves into a ranking for Monday morning, beating #10 Kentucky 76-64 in Rupp Arena. Nathan Cayo had yet another incredible performance, leading his team with 18 points and six rebounds.
After a moderately quiet debut Wednesday, highly-touted graduate transfer Olivier Sarr came out attacking his matchup with Grant Golden. Following Golden’s driving floater over him for the Spiders’ first bucket, Sarr drew a foul working Golden in the post on Kentucky’s first possession. After the inbound, he went right back at Golden, drilling an elbow jumper over the A-10 Preseason 2nd-Team selection. The Wildcats continued to let Sarr go to work as he blew by Golden for a driving dunk the next time down the floor, grabbing a quick 4-2 lead.
Senior Nathan Cayo’s confidence level remained high after a career-high 23-point performance (10-10 FG) Friday night. Recognizing a mismatch with 6’ 6” freshman Cam’ron Fletcher on him, due to John Calipari starting four guards, he attacked from the left corner, converting an and-one play. He scored 5 points in the first five minutes on 2-3 FG.
After both teams were scorching hot from the field against Morehead St, it was far from an offensive shootout in the first half. The Spiders moved the ball well through the first ten minutes and got a lot of clean looks, simply failing to find the bottom of the net. Even through a 1-13 FG stretch, Richmond led 14-13 with 8:31. However, as the score failed to run up, the Spiders got antsy, and Blake Francis returned to hero ball form. Trailing 29-26 with under three minutes to go, Kentucky full court pressed. Richmond easily broke, with Blake passing out of a double team. He got the ball back up the court and proceeded to chuck a midrange shot with his foot on the three-point line. There were 18 seconds on the shot clock.
Plays such as that, which actually led to a Matt Grace over-the-back foul and two free throws for Sarr, summed up the first half. Richmond played its game, forcing 10 Kentucky turnovers to just 5 of its own. It defended well, and aside from late fouling was able to limit most of the Wildcat’s offensive damage to Sarr, who led with 14 points at the break. Simply put, too many early-possession shots. The Spiders went into the locker room down 32-28 shooting 10-35 from the field, behind a 2-10 FG first 20 minutes from Francis.
Both squads went back and forth through the first six minutes of the second half. Tyler Burton was able to get a three and a couple drives to go, and Francis hit his second three. Even as Richmond found some more rhythm on offense, they continued to trade buckets with Kentucky, picking up ticky tacky fouls on the glass.
Richmond started to open the game up soon after. Cayo looked unstoppable, not only torching mismatches with Fletcher and Kentucky’s smaller wings, but even attacking Jackson for an and-one with 14:42. The Spiders continued to play their trademark, smart basketball. With Gilyard failing to get things going from range, he did what he does best: turn defense into offense, stealing the ball from an unalert Sarr and running the floor for a bucket. The Spiders would go on a 12-2 run to lead 58-46 with 7:37 to play, the largest lead of the game.
It was all systems go the rest of the way. With around 3 minutes to play, Kentucky flirted with a comeback, pulling within 9 as the Spiders struggled on the defensive glass. Things looked out of control for a few possessions, but the Wildcats were just as sloppy as the Spiders, who quickly came back to form. Gilyard again pickpocketed an unaware Oliver Sarr and converted it into transition points. Francis, who couldn’t seem to get anything to drop for most of the game, hit a contested driving layup, and followed it up with a cherry-on-top fading three pointer.
Even with a 6-0 run by Kentucky with less than 30 seconds to go, time had run out for the Cats. Trailing by 12, BJ Boston missed a midrange jumper from the left corner, and a Spider rebound sealed the deal with time expiring. Richmond beats a top-ten opponent for the first time in over a decade by a final score of 76-64.
Cayo was yet again Richmond’s best player, finishing with 18 points and six rebounds including a late poster dunk plus the foul. Gilyard, who struggled shooting the ball, did his thing on defense, nabbing five steals and dishing 6 assists. All other starters scored in double digits in another well-rounded, quintessential Spider performance.
The Spiders improve to 2-0 on the season and will more than likely find themselves in the AP Top-25 come Monday morning. “In the words of coach Mooney, ‘We just got to go in and have a good practice tomorrow,” Grant Golden said after the game. Chris Mooney, facing calls for his job from fans just two years ago, puts his team on the map nationally. Richmond is now THE team to beat in the Atlantic-10.