This was so close. The type of game where you will replay the final seconds in your mind time and time again. Richmond was on the verge of their first NIT “final Four’. In the end it came down to the free throw line and three point arc. The Spiders dropped a 68-67 heartbreaker to Mississippi State in a NIT quarterfinal Thursday at Denton, Texas. Richmond finished the campaign at 14-9.
Once again Richmond coach Chris Mooney was minus the services of Blake Francis and Grant Golden, both sidelined with injuries. The Spiders were led by Jacob Gilyard with 22 points. Gilyard shared game scoring honors with DJ Stewart of Mississippi State.
Richmond led by seven with just over five minutes remaining in the first half. A few defensive breakdowns, allowing the Bulldogs to dribble penetrate for a shot in the lane or kick out to the perimeter, were crucial. The score was knotted at 34 at intermission.
Richmond led most of the contest and was ahead by two with ten seconds remaining. Sal Koureissi grabbed a rebound on a missed Bulldog free throw attempt. He threw an outlet to Andre Gustavson who pushed the ball upcourt and was fouled by the last Mississippi State defender. Gustavson missed his free throw attempt, Mississippi State rebounded with eight seconds left. The ball was outlet to Stewart who pushed it up the floor and buried a game-winning three with two seconds left. Richmond’s ensuing inbound was batted away and coach Howland’s Bulldogs were off to their second NIT semi in the last three years
Gilyard had a team-high six assists and four steals. Matt Grace was the other double digit scorer for Richmond with 16 points. The Bulldogs of the SEC utilized size for a 39-23 advantage on the boards. Richmond countered forcing 18 turnovers, translating into 24 points. In the end, the Spiders just came up short. Painfully short.
Richmond has now appeared in four NIT quarterfinals. The most recent before this season was 2017. Mississippi State will face Louisiana Tech in the semifinals. The other game on tap is Colorado State against Memphis. The semis are on Saturday with the final, and a consolation game, Sunday.