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VCU BASKETBALL WEEK IN REVIEW

BEN MALAKOFF

For a few hours, there was a lot of confusion in Richmond. Tennessee had cancelled the tournament VCU was about to attend due to positive COVID-19 tests in their program. The Rams were set to start their season with Charlotte and then play a premiere matchup against No. 12 Tennessee. But with two games off the schedule, VCU needed to find games to participate in the first week of college basketball.

A few hours after the uncertainty, VCU had a new set schedule against some more highly regarded teams. The Rams replaced Wichita State in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic where they would first face off against Utah State and a chance to play No. 15 West Virginia. 

UTAH STATE

With less than 11 minutes to go in the second half, VCU turned on their offense. Down seven, the Rams used an 18-0 run to overpower the Aggies and maintain the lead. One of the biggest differences in the game was turnovers to points. VCU forced 18 turnovers, 11 in the second half, scoring 28 points off of them. Even with a lineup that started freshman Adrian “Ace” Baldwin and  three other first years coming off the bench, the Rams defense looked like it never missed a beat. 

VCU head coach Mike Rhoades described the play as “a little havoc”

Every player that got minutes for the Rams contributed points. Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland led the team with a career high 23 points. In his first start of his first division one game, Baldwin dished seven assists. Coming off the bench, junior Vince Williams provided 15 points and five rebounds.

The Rams were outrebounded 35-28 thanks to seven-foot junior Neemias Queta who grabbed 10 boards for the Aggies and led the way on his team with 17 points.

Once the 18-0 run was stopped by free throws from Queta, it was too late for the Aggies to catch up. The Rams cruised to a 85-69 victory and began preparation for coach Bob Huggins and No. 15 West Virginia.

WEST VIRGINIA

The Rams were clearly tired from their first basketball game in over 250 days. VCU did not score a point for the first seven minutes of the game.West Virginia, behind Derek Culver’s 15 first half points, used a 13-0 run from the tip-off to control the game. The Rams did not score a field goal until there was 10:51 left in the first half.

VCU began their half court press that put the Mountaineers on edge towards the end of the first half. Seven turnovers led to nine points for VCU. Still, West Virginia took a commanding 42-33 lead at the end of the half.

At the beginning of the second half, VCU cut the lead to three points but would never manage to tie it. West Virginia won the game with a 78-66 margin. The team shot just 3-21 from three in the game. Hyland led the Rams with 13 points while Baldwin had six assists.

VCU, while disappointed with the loss, moved to play in the third place game the next day against Memphis, who had their top two players from last season, James Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa, drafted into the NBA. 

MEMPHIS

The Rams proved their case once again of being a defense first team against coach Penny Hardaway and the Tigers. 19 turnovers turned into 25 points for VCU, who also turned the ball over 18 times. Still, it was two juniors who led the way for the Rams. Vince Williams, who has started three games in his career but missed time due to injuries, scored 15 points including going 3-5 from three. Keshawn added 14 points and sophomore Hason Ward grabbed seven boards. 

The Tigers brought the game as close as 5 points in the second half but with over 11 minutes to go, the Rams went on a 12-1 run behind Williams three point shooting. 

VCU looked confident against Memphis who received the 27th most votes in AP’s preseason poll. Tre Clark had an under the radar performance playing some big minutes for the Rams by scoring six points. Along with that came freshman Josh Banks who added another six and Baldwin who had six assists. 

“We became a better team each day,” Rhoades said. “And it culminated to a really good team win today against a very good team. And a lot of different guys contributed in different ways.” 

AHEAD

Flying back from South Dakota with a 2-1 record has to feel good for the Rams. The freshman gained essential experience against some highly ranked teams. Jamir Watkins averages just under five points after three games. In fact, every freshman is averaging at least 3 points. The guard depth is something to look forward to for the Rams with Hyland, Baldwin, Clark, and Curry all transitioning around the position. 

Defense looks like it will be the core of VCU once again. Clark has seven steals through three games with Hyland having six. Ward already has seven blocks with redshirt-senior Corey Douglas adding on five.

The big men on VCU will be the next position group coach Rhoades looks to ignite before the next matchup. Transfer from Kansas State senior Levi Stockard did not score against Memphis with two rebounds. Brendan Medley-Bacon, a junior transfer from Coppin State and the Rams only seven-footer, did not play in the game. While Ward and Douglas have played their part on defense well, the two newcomers for the Rams will be needed against bigger more experienced teams down the road.

VCU travels to University Park, Pennsylvania next to take on Penn State on Dec. 2. The Nittany Lions return their second leading scorer Myreon Jones who averaged over 13 points per game last season. Tip off is at 5 p.m.

Ben Malakoff: Rams Should Feel Good After 2-1 Start To Season  was originally published on espnrichmond.com

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