Rams roll at home, escape defeat on the road

Photo by Erin Edgerton
Photo by Erin Edgerton
roll-at-home
Photos by Erin Edgerton. Graphic by Desiree Choe

Men’s basketball moved to 3-0 last week with wins at Liberty University and against Binghamton University at the Stu. The Rams escaped Lynchburg on Tuesday with a nail-biting 64-59 victory over the Flames, and dominated at home, 81-42 against the Bearcats, on Friday night.

Binghamton

The Rams got what they expected Friday night — an easy home victory against a weary Binghamton in front of the Siegel Center’s 85th consecutive sellout crowd.

VCU head coach Will Wade said he sympathizes with the scheduling position the Bearcats were in after playing the previous Friday, Monday and Wednesday.

“You’ve got to give Binghamton some credit,” Wade said. “I’ve been where they are and it’s no fun, go play four games in a week and get your brains beat in for money. They were worn out.”

Despite facing a downtrodden opponent, Wade and the boys still showed encouraging signs in a game they controlled throughout.

“I was disappointed in our rebounding and foul shooting, but other than that I thought we played well,” Wade said. “The defensive effort was much improved.”

The Rams defensive intensity dictated the flow of the game. The Black and Gold finished with 10 steals and 22 points off 18 Binghamton turnovers.

VCU put forth a mediocre performance on the boards, out-rebounding the Bearcats 36-33. They struggled at the line as well, going a gruesome eight of 15.

Binghamton took a 6-4 lead at the 14:45 mark on a rebound and put-back from forward J.C. Snow. From that point on, the Rams took no prisoners.

VCU proceeded to put the game away in the first half with a 16-0 blitz of the Bearcats.

Senior starting point guard JeQuan Lewis made a stop-and-pop 3-pointer from the wing with 13 minutes to go in the first half to give the Rams an 8-6 lead.

Photo by Erin Edgerton
Photo by Erin Edgerton

Constant on-ball, full-court man-to-man pressure kept Binghamton from establishing any sort of rhythm.  Two consecutive shot-clock violations after the Lewis three-pointer stoked the developing VCU fire.

Redshirt senior forward Mo-Alie Cox put an exclamation point on the run with 8:32 to go in the first half when he tied the legendary Larry Sanders for fourth on the all-time VCU block list.

Junior guard Jonathan Williams converted a subsequent transition opportunity to extend the advantage to 15-6. Alie-Cox would pass Sanders later in the contest.

Lewis added some flair to the run when he found true freshman guard De’Riante Jenkins in mid-air under the basket on a lob from the wing. Jenkins caught the ball and finished in one motion and was fouled to boot, extending the advantage to 18-6 with 7:20 to play in the half.   

Jenkins led the way in the scoring department for VCU. He recorded the first double-double of his career wearing the Black and Gold with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

“We worked the ball inside out and it helped,” Jenkins said. “Once they started helping on Hamdy, Mo or Burg, space opened up on the wings for us (the guards).”

The Rams assortment of talented guards dominated the final stat sheet.

Behind Jenkins, Lewis finished with twelve points and shot four of five from the land beyond. Williams contributed a well-rounded stat-line with eight points, five assists and two steals. Redshirt freshman guard Samir Doughty had ten points and got to the rim at will.

Reporters asked after the game if this breakout shooting performance would raise the Rams confidence levels as they head into the meat of their schedule.     

“We’re confident every game,” Doughty said. “It just depends if it falls or not.”

Liberty

The Liberty Flames played their season opener Tuesday night and gave VCU everything they could handle in what turned out to be an extremely defensive affair for the Rams.

The Black and Gold never found an offensive rhythm and had to dig deep late in the game in order to escape Lynchburg taking the game.

“It was a good win,” Wade said. “We’ve certainly got things we’ve got to get better at, but our defense looked pretty good for the most part.”

The sides traded runs back and forth in a frenetic first half. VCU answered an 11-0 Flames run with a 7-0 spurt of their own, capped off by a coast-coast lay-in from Doughty.

Photo by Erin Edgerton
Photo by Erin Edgerton

Liberty led for the majority of the first half, but the Rams were able to take a 34-31 advantage into halftime with a pair of threes from Lewis and freshman guard Malik Crowfield just before the horn.

VCU stormed out of the locker room with a sense of urgency they lacked in the first half. Starting center Ahmed Hamdy caught the ball and finished in the post on consecutive possessions as the lead swelled to 43-34 and Wade turned and pumped his fist to the Ram fans in attendance.

Williams raised up and dunked in a crowded lane minutes later to bring the score up to 50-42. VCU chants broke out as the Rams smelled blood in the water.

Liberty refused to go down without a fight, though, and made things interesting down the stretch.

Hamdy kissed another shot off the glass to give VCU a 54-46 lead going into the final media time-out. The Flames put together a string of stops and buckets after the stoppage to cut the lead to 54-52.

A tip in from Doughty and two clutch free throws from Alie-Cox relieved the tension on the VCU bench and built a six-point advantage with 1:52 to play. A Jordan Burgess and-one on the next possession in addition to two more free throws from Allie-Cox sealed the deal definitively.

Lewis led VCU in scoring on the night, finishing with 13 points on a sub-par four of 12 shooting. Alie-Cox was a force on both ends of the court providing 12 points, six rebounds and two blocks.

After the game, coach Wade praised Alie-Cox’s composure down the stretch.

“He made some winning plays like you need your senior to make,” Wade said.

Looking ahead to the Bahamas

After facing a trio of cupcakes to open their season, the Rams now stare down the best opportunity to boost their out-of-conference resume’ in the form of the “Battle 4 Atlantis” tournament.

An elite field awaits the Rams in the Islands: the University of Louisville, Michigan State University, Wichita State University, Baylor University, Louisiana State University, St. John’s University and Old Dominion University.

A loser’s bracket format ensures that each team will play three games from Nov. 23-25. VCU opens up the tournament with the Bears of Baylor, who caught the attention of the nation when they man-handled then-No. 4 Oregon last week in a 66-49 win.

Tip off is set for 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon.

The importance of the opportunity ahead does not escape coach Wade or RamNation.

“If we go down there and win a couple games, we can walk the dog into the NCAA tournament,” Wade said.

“We want Baylor,” chanted the Rowdy Rams as the clock expired Friday night.      


SPORTS EDITOR

Zach Joachim. Photo by Julie TrippZach Joachim
Zach is a junior pursuing a dual degree in print journalism and English. A proud Norfolk-ian, he enjoys long walks on the beach, English literature of the romantic period and anything pertaining to Harry Potter or baseball. Zach an avid Red Sox and Patriots fan who can usually be found working at the Student Media Center or running along the James.
Facebook | joachimz@commonwealthtimes.org

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