RICHMOND- For fans like Kris Gordon, the game was too close for comfort. Especially in the final seconds.
“That was a close one,” Gordon said. “It will take a huge effort of dominance to take down LSU”.
Indeed it will as the VCU Rams narrowly escaped the North Texas Mean Green 59-56 and now await a date with the LSU Tigers at the Stuart C. Siegel Center on Wednesday Night.
Throughout the game, the Rams seemed to be playing from behind. But it was senior Mike’L Simms who provided the key shots to help the Rams quiet the Mean Green. Senior guard Marcus Evans lead VCU with 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting with 3-of-5 shots from beyond the 3-point arc.
After the game, Simms credited his performance to the effectiveness of his teammates.
“Trusting my teammates,” Simms said. “I would not have hit those shots without them, it’s all about the trust”.
The balance was key as nine different players scored for VCU. De’Riante Jenkins added 12 points and Marcus Santos-Silva led the Rams with seven rebounds and three assists in the contest. Issac Vann added nine points for the Black and Gold.
DJ Draper scored 12 points on 4-of-7 from 3-point range to lead the Mean Green. Zachary Simmons also record 10 points on 4-9 shooting including 2-2 from the free-throw line.
VCU used a 20-0 run midway through the first half to surge to a 31-19 lead with 1:59 on the clock. The Rams would take a 31-21 lead into the locker room at the half but the Mean Green would not go away quietly.
The Mean Green pulled to within 54-53, but Simms hit a clutch shot with 1:11 remaining in the game to keep North Texas at bay. With one last crack in the final moments, Evans’s steal left and Jenkins’s free throws iced the contest as the Mean Green ran out of time.
The Rams shot 39 percent (10-of-26) from beyond the 3-point arc to answer North Texas’ tough interior defense which displayed itself from the opening tipoff.
The Mean Green fought back from a 12-point deficit to briefly take the lead on two occasions before the Rams took the momentum right back. VCU forced 18 turnovers off North Texas and held the Mean Green to just eight free throw attempts.
Head Coach Mike Rhoades gave props to North Texas and that he is proud of the team being resilient to keep the win.
“A confidence builder, it’s great for our guys to go through that,” Rhoades said. “We can practice those scenarios in practice all the time, but in practice, your point guards doesn’t miss free throws”.
A truth-telling indeed, the Rams did struggle from the free-throw line at times, yet they held their head high and played strong defense. Fans meanwhile, were only focused on the win and they took that in their back pocket into the weekend.
Now, they turn their eyes towards Wednesday Night when the LSU Tigers make their debut in the Siegel Center. They are led by a familiar face in Will Wade, the former coach at VCU who left unceremoniously and has had FBI allegations attached to his name.
The fans? They know it and they want to get rowdy in the annual GOLD OUT game. Senior Owen Fitzgerald is one of them. He says Wade doesn’t owe VCU anything, but the manner in which he left still has some fans burning.
“I think the motivation for next Wednesday’s game is not going to come as a result of the scandals, but because of the manner in which Wade left,” Fitzgerald said.
“I think he had the opportunity to give this school more years than he did, and to reach new levels of success that other coaches hadn’t. In reality, he doesn’t owe us anything, but there’s going to be some angry fans next week, and I’m one of them”.
The message is received loud and clear and the fans are ready. Some fans have gotten permission from their teachers to let them come to this game as this is the biggest game of the season this year. Looks like the staff wants to get in on the action as well.
Buckle up Ram Nation. ESPN will be in the house and the Stu is going be packed with 7,000+ fans ready to root for Rams. We are playing basketball baby and IT’S GAMETIME!!