BUFFALO — Any team that has gone through a 40-minute tussle with Richmond and then sees a “0” in the steals column for their star player/grand larcenist Jacob Gilyard, the chances of that opponent winning should be greatly enhanced as Gilyard’s defensive impact is, supposedly, blunted. In Thursday’s afternoon’s first-round NCAA Tournament game, the Iowa Hawkeyes, fresh off a Big Ten Tournament championship and quickly becoming a chic pick amongst many office pool participants to make a surprise Final Four run, ended their game with the Spiders knowing that Gilyard was shut out on the stat sheet in the category he wreaks the most havoc.
Gilyard, the all-time steals leader in Division 1, stole the Hawkeyes chances at NCAA Tournament glory in almost every other way.
The latest upset in the rich history of Richmond Spider basketball pulling off surprises in the Big Dance was led by the 5-9 guard from Kansas City, whose 24 points, six rebounds and six assists led the Spiders to a 67-63 win over the Hawkeyes and kick off what would be a day of upheaval in the NCAA Tournament.
Somehow, Gilyard, who broke the steals record earlier this season, did not come up with a steal against the high-powered Hawkeyes offense, but his in-your-shirt defense on the Hawkeyes’ perimeter players had as much of an impact as any in Iowa failing to score at least 65 points for just the third time this all season; Sharpshooter Jordan Bohannon, who is a career 39.7 percent three-point shooter during his six seasons at Iowa, went just 2-of-8 from the field and scored six points while having a devil of a time trying to shake off Gilyard trying to create space for his shot.
Being a pest is something the fifth-year senior has arguably done better than any to ever play in Division 1. His coach, former Princeton standout Chris Mooney, played under one of the best basketball minds in the game’s history, the legendary Pete Carril, and Carril’s teams consistently ranked near the top every year in points per game allowed. Defense is what Mooney grew up around, but Gilyard’s prowess is at another level.
“Number one thing is, amazing instincts. Best I’ve ever seen,” Mooney said to A Lot of Sports Talk about Gilyard earlier this year. “Obviously, he’s super quick. But his instincts, being in the right spot, having anticipation for where the ball is going, are like nothing I’ve ever seen. That combination is tremendous and I would say I have taught him nothing about it. I give him all the credit for that.”
As a sophomore in 2018-19, Gilyard averaged a career-high in points with a 16.2 average, but his scoring has gone down slightly since then. What has gone up, however, is his playmaking ability on the offensive end and his penchant for clutch performances on the offensive end when his team needs it the most. In the Atlantic 10 Tournament, a tournament the Spiders, seeded No. 6 in the A10, needed to win just to gain entry into the tournament, Gilyard dug the Spiders out of the fire through the entire week in Washington, D.C.
In the second round win against No. 11 Rhode Island, Gilyard’s three late in the game tied the score after the Spiders were down 15 earlier in the half. Against city rival VCU in the quarterfinals, Gilyard scored a career-high 32 points to eliminate the Rams and officially burst their NCAA Tournament bubble. One day later, he led another come-from-behind by the Spiders against Dayton before capping off the magical run with 26 points in the A10 Championship win against top-seeded Davidson.
In the game’s against Davidson and VCU, he scored north of 25 points. When being held to 10 and 11 points against Rhode Island and Dayton, respectively, he had a combined nine assists and 10 steals in those two games. Gilyard has proven again that he is much more than a basketball thief.
“He’s a great basketball player. He’s always going to play by his instincts, which are tremendous,” Mooney said. “So if he sees a guy open, he’s going to throw it to him, no matter how many shots he’s made. He’s always going to trust his instincts, and make the right basketball play.”