Monday night was not a typical night in the Siegel Center as VCU Men’s Basketball took on North Florida in their mainland game of the Maui Invitational. Justin Tillman had the hot hand on offense and the Fro ignited VCU offensively to hold the Ospreys at bay in a 12 round prizefight at the Siegel Center.
Main Event: Tillman vs. Escobar
Justin Tillman took over the game moments after winning the tip-off for VCU. The senior forward collected 12 points and was perfect from the floor on 6-for-6 shooting. Tillman also added a block to his scoring collection in the opening 5 minutes of play. The Ospreys countered with a three-point splurge thanks to J.T. Escobar. UNF closed the gap with three consecutive three-pointers to cut the deficit to 5 points.
As UNF continued hitting from downtown, VCU stayed the course with the up-tempo offense. Jonathan Williams got a key steal and layup to restart the Rams on offense. Issac Vann kept the volume in the Siegel Center high with a two-handed jam after HAVOC collected another steal.
Escobar put North Florida’s workload on his shoulders from the three-point spot. The redshirt sophomore out of Tallahassee kept the Ospreys close making his next three attempts from downtown. Free throws by Wajid Aminu would give UNF their first lead of the game at 24-23.
Tillman countered immediately with a powerful alley-oop finish. Fans got louder as Williams connected on another layup followed by a turnover by the Ospreys. UNF remained unfazed after another turnover turned into a steal by Osborn Blount. Blount found Ivan Gandia-Rosa for three to give UNF their 7th 3 Ball of the half.
There was still plenty of fight left in the battle of Escobar and Tillman. The Fro checked back into the contest and remained perfect to put his tally to 18 points on 9-for-9 shooting. Escobar went inside for his next scoring tally with 17 points.
Vannimal. Corner Pocket!
Vann and Williams added extra voltage to VCU’s offense when Williams led the charge on a counter-attack towards the basket. Williams hoisted an alley towards Vann where he finished with a layup to satisfaction of those in attendance.
Siegel Center was treated to a ground shaking end of an entertaining 1st half of basketball. Sean Mobley was called for a blocking foul that a majority of those in attendance did not agree with. With 3 seconds left, Noah Horchler made two free throws for the Ospreys. Vann answered back loud and clear with a three-ball from the corner side that hit all net for VCU.
The Rams headed into the locker room with a 50-45 lead and a loud bunch of Rams in the stands letting them hear it vocally. The Rams finished the half shooting 61% from the field while UNF went 50% at the three-point spot on 9-of-18 shooting.
More Fro, More Points
HAVOC came out with haymakers as the 2nd half got underway. Tillman brought his offense outside the paint and buried a three-pointer to start his shift. North Florida coughed up a pair of turnovers that was answered with a layup by Vann and a dunk by Lane. VCU was able to pad their lead up to double digits before the Ospreys connected on a three-pointer from Garret Sams. UNF kept the Rams at bay defensively while a slight chill offensively on both sides took over after a hot first half on the scoreboard.
Fatigue had North Florida fading during a two-minute scoreless run. HAVOC left the Ospreys and head coach Matthew Driscoll frustrated while VCU kept the pressure on. Jenkins and Vann continued doing damage on the glass with rebounds and points.
The offense for the Black & Gold continued to thrive when Lane connected from three to go up 73-65. Garrett Sams gave North Florida hope on a wide open three ball that was answered by Jenkins from three. Sams was not finished as he connected again from the spot on the next play.
The three-point strike was working overtime in the 2nd half. Malik Crowfield ignited the crowd with his first three of the night as the game got more physical. VCU took advantage on transition with Jenkins dishing to Lane for the bucket. Escobar got a second wind from three to put UNF within 6 points with less than 6 minutes remaining.
North Florida had one last gasp near regulation. After an airball from the corner spot by Escobar, Sams took the next attempt from the spot to collect all 3 points. Horchler received a gift of a lob pass near the open basket to put the Ospreys 3 points behind the Rams.
A Brawl To The Final Bell
At the two-minute warning mark, Tillman could not hit a contested three-pointer. Lane came up with the offensive board and was fouled on the shot. Two free throws put the Rams up 5 and North Florida could not come up with the answer on offense.
Jonathan Williams put the game further out of reach with a clutch floater that hit the bottom of the net. Siegel Center roared in excitement as the Rams increased their lead with 30 seconds remaining in the game.
Two minutes that the Ospreys wanted back as UNF finished the night without a basket. VCU held off North Florida 95-85 with Justin Tillman tying his career high in points with 27 points and 8 rebounds. Khris Lane and Isaac Vann added 17 points each and Jonathan Williams was the fourth Ram in double digits with 11 points.
J.T. Escobar led North Florida with 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting from three. North Florida had 5 Ospreys finish with 10 or more points against the Rams. UNF went 42.5% from downtown and shot 40 three-point attempts.
HAVOC forced 16 turnovers by North Florida and collected 10 steals. As a team, VCU had 26 assists with Jonathan Williams making a career-high with 8 assists along with De’Riante Jenkins dishing out 5 assists.