A weekend of VCU Men’s Basketball in Brooklyn was in the cards as the Rams sprinted into the Barclays Center ready for war. Everything was in the Black & Gold’s favor: A-10 Regular Season Champs, the #1 seed, and a 12 game winning streak at hand. And yet VCU was eliminated in the A-10 Quarterfinals by #8 Rhode Island.
For the third consecutive year, Rhode Island had VCU’s number in the post-season. The game itself was just as advertised in an intense Battle of the Rams for 40 minutes on the hardwood. Emotions clashing, players colliding, and hearts racing with every passing second of play.
A Fallen Leader Changed The Game
The game changed for the worse once Marcus Evans went down and was unable to continue play. Evans suffered “a pretty deep bone bruise” explained by Coach Rhoades and thankfully the knee is in stable condition. Evans had to watch the rest of the game from the sidelines with crutches.
From that point, VCU kept fighting but we’re unable to get back to that dominant force. Their leader was out of action and that takes a toll on the team psyche, no matter what anybody says. PJ Byrd and Malik Crowfield did what they could to step up in that Point Guard position however replacing what Evans brings to the table is no easy task.
Jeff Dowtin stepped up for Rhode Island and once that prayer of a heave from three was answered, the wind was taken out of the Barclays Center. Rhody has bubble experience where they need to win the A-10 Tournament to punch their ticket into March Madness. Rhode Island is now two games away from that triumph.
“Credit to Rhode Island. They made some plays when they needed to and they scrapped some plays out, and you know, that’s how it goes.”
–VCU Head Coach Mike Rhoades
Two Numbers, One Dominant Ram
Marcus Santos-Silva had the game of his life against Rhody. Setting new career highs in points (26) and rebounds (22), Santos-Silva was playing at an elite level all his own. Not only did he shutdown Rhody’s Cyril Langevine inside, #14 (or #35) went 10-of-14 from the free throw line and did not turnover the ball once.
What makes this double-double even more magnificent is that Marcus Santos-Silva completed this feat twice in each half. In 15 minutes of the 1st half, he already set the standard at 12 rebounds and 11 points. Santos-Silva made it a double in the second half with and additional 10 rebounds and 15 points to his tally.
“He kept fighting. He ran the court really well. He just gave us great energy and when you play harder than the people you’re playing against, it usually puts you in a good position to get results, and he did that today.”
This 12 game winning streak began back in January after the first clash of Rhody vs. VCU at Kingston ironically. From that game, VCU ran their A-10 slate including extracting revenge on Rhody at the Stu towards the A-10 Regular Season title. Unfortunately, the third game went similar to the defeat on the road.
Ram fans are hopeful that VCU can pick themselves up and get another run going into the NCAA Tournament; so does De’Riante Jenkins who’s eager to get back to work.
“I don’t think no one want(s) the season to end and I think everyone (is) going to remember this feeling and just work harder when we get back to the gym.”
Next Ram Up
While Marcus Evans is being evaluated, VCU has some time to operate without their leader. PJ Byrd has been pushed all season in practice against Evans at the PG position. Byrd continues showing levels of improvement mixed with costly turnovers due to forcing the ball where it should not belong. These next couple of days of preparation could catapult Byrd to being better prepared if Evans can’t compete; as the saying goes: “Next Man Up.”
Byrd won’t be doing this task alone. Malik Crowfield and Mike’l Simms have experience leading the VCU offense on occasion. This Ram Army is deep but scarce without a true PG; there are plenty of guards capable of becoming the guy with time and VCU doesn’t have that much left.
Prepped For March
While the season has stopped temporarily, VCU has one more opportunity remaining. With Selection Sunday upcoming, the Rams have very good odds towards seeing VCU on the bracket. A great season that included the program’s first outright A-10 conference title was spoiled with a one-and-done elimination in the A-10 tournament.
“As upset as I am and feel for our guys, this is why you play the games and we’re not going to make one excuse, and let’s see if the character that we need all the time continues to get better and better.”
Battles like the one in VCU vs. Rhode Island can make or break teams. In this scenario, it may have made two teams that could represent the Atlantic 10 in March. After all, VCU did create a run for the history books after a loss at Rhode Island. Why not create another one? Heard that this is a good month to make it happen.
NCAA Selection Sunday unveils the bracket for the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament on Sunday, March 17th at 6 PM on CBS.