VCU men’s basketball saw its season come to an anticlimactic end against the Gaels of Saint Mary’s College by a final of 85-77 in the first round of the NCAA tournament this past Thursday in Salt Lake City.
The Rams faced a 15 point halftime deficit, and were never able to claw all the way back in the second period despite trimming the Gael’s lead to as little as two and outscoring SMC 46-39.
“I knew we were gonna come back when it was a 15 point game at halftime,” said coach Will Wade. “Every game has been a dogfight this year. That’s the culture of our program.”
“That pressure is hard to play against,” said Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett. “They’re really good. They just keep coming — they’re quick and aggressive.”
VCU committed a season-high 32 fouls in the contest, 21 of which were called in the second half. Repeated whistles in the backcourt subdued the Rams’ full court pressure throughout the night.
The Black and Gold also struggled to find a rhythm from three-point-range, as they shot an abysmal 2-13 from the land beyond.
Senior guard JeQuan Lewis, who made the Rams’ only two three-pointers, was once again the catalyst for VCU, leading all scorers with 30 points on 12-28 shooting.
“He’s a warrior,” Wade said of Lewis. “He’s been wounded the last month of the season. He’s the guy who’s been the most consistent guard. He’s the one guy who’s made shots for us. And to play 33, 35 minutes a night like he does — that hard, flying around — we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him. He’s hit some huge shots and big free throws all season. I love the kid to death.”
Senior forward Ahmed Hamdy recorded five rebounds and 12 points on 5-7 shooting. Hamdy’s post play was rendered pivotal by the struggles of his fellow big men — senior forward Mo-Alie Cox scored just two points on 1-4 shooting and grabbed two boards. Junior forward and perennial double-double machine Justin Tillman had six points and seven rebounds.
“The difference in the game was simply, when you get to this level of play you have to have very good big guys,” Wade said. “Hamdy gives us the best opportunity to score in the paint. He’s the one guy who can really wheel and deal down there.”
Forward Jordan Burgess had perhaps the best game of his senior campaign, contributing 11 points and three rebounds on 4-6 shooting from the field. The Midlothian native recorded 29 points in postseason play over the past two weekends.
“Sometimes when you’re a senior you get a little tight toward the end and I think he got really excited,” Wade said. “Jordan said, ‘I’m going to make the most of this and really get after it,’ and Jordan did that. I’m really really proud of him — I thought he played extremely well today, driving the ball, playing aggressive.
“I’m really proud of our seniors, I just thanked them,” Wade said. “It hasn’t been an easy year. I love those guys. Now we get to work on getting back.”
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 is an avid Red Sox and Patriots fan who can usually be found working at the Student Media Center or running along the James.
Sophia is a junior journalism major pursuing a minor in gender, sexuality and women’s studies. She enjoys writing about current events and sports, and hopes to one day be a sports reporter covering soccer, basketball and/or baseball. You can usually find Sophia drinking way too much coffee and laughing at her own jokes.
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