Three games remain on the hunt for the Atlantic 10 regular season crown. VCU Men’s Basketball took various blows by Saint Louis but remained unbroken by silencing the Billikens in the final moments. A physical bloodbath type of contest as Coach Rhoades described and one that the Black & Gold was in need of heading towards March.
Saint Louis was full of tall, physically gifted players that were prepped for a fist-fight on the basketball court. VCU was ready for the pain and still managed to stay composed even with their paint game not up to par. The Rams outscored SLU 41-27 in the first half and wounded their opponent from long range knocking down 7 three-pointers.
If this was a boxing match, VCU probably had a 5-1 advantage on the judges’ scorecard heading into round 7; then the script changed. The wounded became enraged as Hasahn French put SLU on his shoulders in an offensive rampage. Multiple Billikens attacking the basket with reckless abandon and VCU struggling to close the game shut in the final moments.
During all of this, VCU did not go into panic mode. Players holding each other accountable even when a mistake was made. Marcus Evans putting his body on the line with every charge he took. Issac Vann keeping that same energy in the defensive trenches. That Ram Army was one under fire and that’s what eventually led to VCU’s eighth consecutive win over Saint Louis.
“Last year close games hurt us and I don’t think we grew from them enough. This year these close games (we’re) gonna growing from them and get better.”–VCU Head Coach, Mike Rhoades
Less Talk, More Action
Tuesday’s grind resulted in Rams stepping up their game and challenging their alleys to do the same. Evans wore those charges on his chest with pride while leading VCU’s offense once again scoring 20 points. In addition, Evans has kept the ball hot in the month of February with 36 assists compared to 19 turnovers.
With a defensive player of the year envisioned in his mind, Issac Vann has stepped up to the challenge every night. Vann takes pride in getting the toughest defensive assignment and making things rather difficult. The redshirt junior found that spark on offense as well scoring in double-digits for the fourth time in February.
“You have to have a level of toughness if you want to win college basketball games. Sometimes it’s so much physical toughness…it’s also mental toughness.” -Coach Rhoades
That mental toughness broke through the grasp of Saint Louis. Watching Corey Douglas, Sean Mobley, and Marcus Santos-Silva getting smacked at the rim yet coming back for more. VCU’s bench jumping, cheering, and yelling down the sidelines to encourage their brothers battling. The hunters nearly got outsmarted by the prey and yet the hunters found a way to succeed.
Don’t Let Me Get in My Zone
Seeing zone defense in VCU’s playbook was already a sight to see once upon a time. Currently, VCU is seeing a shift in the opponent’s defense from man-to-man to zone defense. And that’s not a bad thing.
“I think it’s big for us to see (zone defense) now because obviously, we can pick teams apart in man but if we learn to pick teams apart in
zoneI mean…it’s kind of like how (can) you guard us?” –VCU Redshift Junior, Marcus Evans
The 1-3-1 zone of Saint Louis was a thing of beauty and nerve-racking against the Rams. With more experience as Evans stated against the zone, the more time VCU has towards cracking a code. If VCU can consistently become a code breaker of zone defense, then the odds for an opponent to be victorious drastically decreases.
Time is the key factor in this scenario which there is a lack of. Three A-10 games left in the season followed by the A-10 tourney in Brooklyn then March Madness arrives. Limited gameplay experience but plenty of hours in the practice facility could be enough for VCU to come up with the ultimate zone code.
The Hunt for The Outright
VCU remains atop of the Atlantic 10 alone at 13-2 with a 9 game win streak in hand and Davidson two games behind. Three conference games remain for the Rams: at Richmond, at George Mason, versus Saint Joseph’s. Meaning that VCU claiming their second A-10 regular-season crown outright could become reality.
While the Rams work in preparation of Round 2 of the Crosstown Showdown, the Wildcats have an interesting slate on their plate. After being upset at La Salle, Davidson goes back to the Belk versus Fordham and Saint Bonaventure. Davidson finishes their A-10 season at the Robins Center against the Spiders.
Clearly, VCU holds all the cards. After a convincing Round 1 knockout of Richmond at Siegel, VCU travels into enemy grounds in search for the season sweep. Simply Put: Rams just need to keep on winning.
We Are Ramily
There was a bigger battle on this night in the memory of Jacob Alexander Woods. The Woods Family was in attendance to honor their fallen son while many of Ram Nation wore red in support during this time of difficulty.
Life can be fun mixed with dark moments of cruelty. With the heart of Baby Jacob beating loudly in everyone’s minds at the Siegel Center, Coach Rhoades hoped that those 2 hours of healing helped.
“Anyway we can help people…everybody…this is what we’re here for. VCU and Ram Nation we always will take care of each other.” –Coach Rhoades
Pressing Forward. Together
As the wild game of survival reaches its final stages, VCU is proving that the hunters are still trying to prove they belong. The Rams want to win all 3 games left on their calendar and take the A-10 title by force. And that’s only the beginning with the A-10 tournament and NCAA Tournament on their radar.
Composure and togetherness can keep that Black & Gold dream burning brightly. Going after that ball on every attempt while sticking to the game plan is a major key. The Ram Army is hard at work towards cracking the zone which could be the modification that brings the hunters to elite status.
There’s no surrender in VCU. Saint Louis may have just given VCU the wake-up call they didn’t even know was needed. Blow out games are fun however the close ones’ builds character as Coach Rhoades likes to say considering he really does love close games.
The character of the
Crosstown Showdown: Part 2 against Richmond arrives at the Robins Center on Saturday, March 2nd. Tip-off begins at 4 PM on CBS Sports Network.