The main objective after Friday’s Homecoming game was accomplished with #25 VCU improving to 2-0 after beating North Texas 59-56. Even after going 2-for-2 to start the season, VCU is aware of the work necessary to keep those wins coming.
Grinding Through Turnover Adversity
North Texas could have won this game at the Siegel Center. Head Coach Grant McCasland prepped the Mean Green well on defense by smothering VCU with numbers on drives to the basket. De’Riante Jenkins shared that he hasn’t played against a defense like this since the University of Virginia so that’s one hell of a compliment to North Texas.
These close games may be a panic attack for us but Coach Rhoades is addicted to the rush of a close duel between adversaries. Especially with Mike’l Simms having his clutch moment two seasons in the making. Rhoades was on Simms hard at the beginning of the game for early mistakes but the senior rose to the occasion late to sink two of the biggest threes in his collegiate career.
“That’s who he is. He’s built for this.”
– Marcus Evans, VCU Senior Guard
Jenkins With The JUICE!
VCU was not prime VCU in the early stages of the contest. Marcus Santos-Silva was double-teamed out the gates forcing the Rams to go elsewhere offensively. For 7 minutes, North Texas had slowed the tempo and held a grip on the ball that HAVOC had difficulty breaking.
Until De’Riante Jenkins returned to the floor.
‘Everybody knew what time it was. It was time to win.”
–De’Riante Jenkins, VCU Senior Guard
Coach Rhoades sent his starting rotation back into the trenches and Jenkins took over. The long-range shot returned, the energy on defense, and urging home base to crank up the volume. Jenkins overcharged the Black & Gold with the juice necessary for the second wind while grinding out a hard-fought win at home.
Failure Fuelling Success
18 Turnovers, North Texas painting the black paint of the Stu green and having one of those chilly offensive nights. One thing about VCU is their resilience to not give up when clearly things aren’t going right. Outside of the consistent force-feeding of the ball where it should not go, the Rams kept working.
Coach Rhoades got on VCU constantly about those mistakes; especially on his seniors. They responded not with their feelings but creating a 20-0 run that lasted around 8 ½ minutes. 9 turnovers for North Texas and a rambunctious fan base alongside them, VCU rose from failure to find success.
The Green of North Texas got even meaner down the stretch however HAVOC flexed enough muscle in crunch time. Marcus Evans took his failure to heart missing both free throws that would’ve put the game to bed. A defensive opportunity came for Evans as the VCU senior stole the ball away from UNT moments later but he expects better from himself in the future.
“I mean…I don’t know if it felt good but I knew it was something that I had to do. My team expects me to make those free throws and I expect that of myself. That won’t happen again. That’s unacceptable.”
Get In The Game, Not Your Feelings
We’ve been down this road before. Turnovers is that annoyance that VCU just can’t get rid of permanently. One positive that Coach Rhoades expressed is that the majority of turnovers aren’t coming from the open court which is great. The main issue is teaching his youthful squad to stop forcing the ball where it doesn’t belong.
This trend will, unfortunately, continue for the next batch of games until the Rams get enough game experience to fully grasp this lesson. You can practice this 24/7 on your own with teammates and coaches but it truly doesn’t click into gear like making the mistake versus an opponent under the lights. Which is frustrating for fans but valuable for the players.
“It’s a great learning experience on getting ready for those big moments. (The) best experience is game experience to learn the game of basketball.”
–VCU Head Coach Mike Rhoades
Outside of the workable turnover issue, players need to buy in on keeping that all-out energy up on defense. Coach Rhoades wants VCU to play aggressive with the ball and expects that aggression without it while defending. The VCU seniors know what the new guys are going through during the learning process but they expect them to get with the program.
“It could be some good days; it could be some not so good days. Sometimes it feels like you don’t know how to play basketball but it’s all about learning the system, learning what we like to do on defense.”
Evans, Jenkins, and Simms know that they set the bar as seniors. Simms simply added that “you’re not gonna play if you don’t play defense.” Message sent.
The Return Of Wade
Ahh, the head coach formerly known as Coach Will Wade makes his anticipated return to the Siegel Center. VCU has a couple of days of preparation before “welcoming” LSU and Coach Wade to the Stu next Wednesday. While Ram fans are salivating at the opportunity to give VCU’s former head coach a lukewarm welcome back, the team knows what’s in the works towards win #3.
Learning to work with what the defense gives you and living to fight another day on offense while limiting turnovers. Keeping the energy on a high wavelength for 40 minutes while fighting like crazy on both sides of the basketball. Ram fans are buying into the Floor Burn Tradition. Can VCU buy into that defense is the name of the game here on Broad Street? I believe so in due time.
In a game full of hardships and tests of might, North Texas gave VCU a battle that will bring the Rams closer to being better as the season progresses. Reminder: College basketball is a marathon, not a sprint. After Mile #2, VCU is where they need to be as the climb begins to get steeper with tougher opponents upcoming. The marathon continues.
One Last Tweet
VCU returns to action at the Siegel Center on Wednesday, November 13th to welcome former head coach Will Wade and LSU. This contest begins at 6 PM on ESPN2.