Following a tough loss to visiting Liberty University in the Rams’ season-opening exhibition, VCU basketball bounced back with a commanding 98-74 win Friday night against nearby Virginia Union University in the Black and Gold’s preseason finale.
“The Liberty game was a wakeup call,” said sophomore wing De’Riante Jenkins following Friday’s win. “We needed that…to clean up everything, from top to bottom. Everyone got better from there.”
The Black and Gold dominated their cross-town opponents in nearly every statistical category, shooting over 50 percent and forcing 23 Panther turnovers as the Rams led for nearly 38 of the game’s 40 minutes.
“I really liked our guys’ approach this whole week,” coach Mike Rhoades said. “We’re improving, never at the rate the coach wants to improve, but we’re improving and we’re getting better.
“The biggest thing I liked today is that we had 20 assists on 38 baskets,” he said. “And that means guys are keeping the ball hot and sharing it and looking for each other, and that’s really important.”
Senior forward Khris Lane led six Rams in double-digit scoring Friday night, as the native Richmonder put up an impressive 21 point, 8 rebound, 3 block and 2 steal statline in his second appearance for the Black and Gold.
Lane said his growing familiarity with his new teammates has already opened up a lot of doors on both ends of the court.
“It’s huge,” Lane said. “I’ve always been a pretty good offensive player, but it’s just about me finding my spots and knowing who I play with and where they’re going to be. So, it’s just a learning experience and I think we took a big step forward tonight”
After a bit of a slow start, sophomore wing duo Jenkins and Malik Crowfield led the charge, combining for seven made threes on the night. Rhoades said Friday was just a taste of what the Rams are capable of from beyond the arc.
“I think, with experience, that will come and we’ll have a 16-, 17-, 18-made-threes game one of these days,” he said. “Those guys know they’ve got the green light. I was even mad at a couple of those guys for not shooting open threes. We have to make sure we’re firing them up and knocking them down.”
Although the Rams offensive firepower shone Friday night, Rhoades said he wasn’t content with his team’s effort level on defense, as the Black and Gold allowed the Division II Panthers to score 74 points.
“On the defensive side, we have a long, long way to go,” Rhoades said. “We lack a lot of defensive discipline, but that comes with experience. That comes with reps in practice. That comes with leadership. That comes with getting a freshman to finally play defense for the first time in their life, and we’re going to continue to work on that.”
The Rams leading for most of the night allowed Rhoades and his coaching staff to experiment with a variety of lineups and the first-year head coach said he was happy with the versatility of his players and their ability to play all over the floor.
“The one thing I do like about our team is that we have guys that can play multiple positions,” he said. “Issac Vann can play, we’re not a numbers team, but a two through a four. That versatility gives us lots of options and I think that really helps.”
Vann, in particular, was a bit of a crowd-pleaser in front of the home crowd Friday night. In addition to his 17-point, 6-rebound performance, the redshirt-sophomore had two thunderous dunks in the second half that put the entirety of Ram Nation on their feet.
Overall, Rhoades said he was happy to take the victory after what was a massive disappointment against Liberty, but urged his squad is not going to be content with just winning.
“The hardest thing to do in college basketball is to win a game and I’ll never, ever take that for granted,” Rhoades said. “but go get more. We’re not defining our season on tonight and we won’t define it on the next three games we play. We’re going to define our season on how much better we can get and how we can affect college basketball. You have to dream like that, and that’s how we are every day.”
VCU kicks off their 2017-18 campaign Friday as they host Grambling State in the Rams’ regular season opener. Tip-off is set for at 7 p.m.
Nick Versaw, Staff Writer