BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Big Ten may be known for its power hoops, but the University of Richmond gave a lesson in physical play to that league’s champ Thursday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Richmond, seeded No. 12, knocked out fifth-seeded Iowa 67-63 with a tight defensive job and interior scoring.
“Great defensive effort against one of the best offenses in the country.” UR coach Chris Mooney said. “Big Ten champs. That’s a tremendous win for Richmond, tremendous win for these particular guys.”
The Spiders (24-12) will meet fourth-seeded Providence (26-5) in Saturday’s second round.
UR’s Nathan Cayo (15 points) and Tyler Burton (18) went after Iowa inside and worked over the Hawkeyes. Guard Jacob Gilyard scored 24 and hit four free throws in the final 15.2 seconds. Richmond won despite getting only 4 points from 6-foot-10 Grant Golden, who averages 14, and making only five 3-pointers, three fewer than its average.
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Gilyard, named most outstanding player of the Atlantic 10 tournament, thanked Mooney and praised his teammates, then said, “I feel like me personally, I was built for this, like this is who Jacob Gilyard is.”
Defensively, UR continued its superior play from the A-10 tournament, which it won. Iowa guard Connor McCaffery called this contest “probably the worst game we played all year, and I don’t think it’s close.”
With 3:39 left in the first half, Mooney put his palms toward the floor, a sign that he wanted the Spiders to slow it down after a frantic minute. Iowa was averaging 84 points but was never allowed to get on track.
“We deserve to be here, but we knew that’s not enough,” said Gilyard (six assists). “You’ve got to go out there and make your own luck. We did that today.”
At halftime, UR led 29-28, and the Spiders limited the Hawkeyes to 36.4% shooting for the game.
Richmond didn’t allow any of the four opponents it played in the A-10 tournament to score more than 64 points. Make that five straight opponents.
“I think we all personally bought in. From top to bottom, we all just dig in on defense,” said Burton (11 rebounds). “Overall, that was our weakness this year. For us to just come full circle at the end of the year, these last five games, unbelievable.”
Whether the Spiders could carry that level of defensive strength into the NCAA tournament was questionable, given Iowa’s offensive prowess.
The Hawkeyes are led by a first team All-America, 6-foot-8 Keegan Murray (23.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.0 bpg). Richmond rotated 6-7 Cayo, 6-7 Burton and 6-5 Andre Gustavson on Murray, who was 3 of 7 in the first half and finished with a hard-earned 21.
“Fought through some foul trouble, which I was concerned about,” Mooney said. But he added that he was confident because the Spiders had multiple defensive options for Murray.
“They’re just physical, and they brought a lot of guys any time I was driving to the basket or in the paint area,” Murray said of the Spiders.
Down the stretch, it was Cayo scoring and physically defending Murray.
“Offensively, defensively, he kind of saved us,” Gilyard said of Cayo. “I think it started when he got matched up with Murray. He did a really good job defensively, and that kind of got himself going.”
Burton, aggressive to the rim (9 of 10 on free throws), looked like the better NBA prospect, scoring 14 first-half points. The Hawkeyes stayed in it with offensive rebounding and second shots.
“We had a couple of stretches where we were getting consecutive stops,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “We didn’t get them when we really needed them.”
Each of these teams won four straight games to capture their league championship. The difference in pedigree, however, was significant. Richmond, A-10 champ, hadn’t qualified for the NCAA tournament since 2011. Iowa, Big Ten champ, has participated in six of the last eight NCAA tournaments, and is ranked No. 16 in the latest AP poll.
This was the 10th time the Spiders made the NCAA tournament. It was their first victory in the event since beating Morehead State in the second round in 2011 to advance to the Sweet 16.