Men’s basketball traveled to Maui, Hawaii last weekend for a trio of marquee non conference matchups with NCAA Tournament caliber opponents. The Rams dropped a pair of games to the University of Michigan and Marquette University on either side of a dominant showing in a blowout win over the University of California.
University of Michigan
The Rams fell short to the University of Michigan 68-60 in their third and final contest at this year’s Maui Invitational tournament Wednesday afternoon in Hawaii, dropping the Black and Gold’s record to 3-3 on the season
Senior forward Khris Lane once again led the charge, scoring 13 points and eight rebounds in his 27 minutes of action. Sophomores Mike’l Simms and De’Riante Jenkins joined Lane in double-digit scoring with 12 points apiece.
Wednesday’s loss was perhaps the most heartbreaking of VCU’s three games in Hawaii. After trailing for most of the afternoon, the Rams took command behind a 13-0 run early in the second half.
From that point on, the two teams traded punches until Wolverine forward Moritz Wagner made the go-ahead layup with 1:11 remaining. The Rams would never recover.
“I thought we had put ourselves in a position to pull it out and we just beat ourselves late in the game there,” VCU coach Mike Rhoads said following Wednesday’s loss. “They executed down the stretch and we didn’t. I loved the fight we had to get back in it and take the lead. At that point, it’s in our grasp, but we’re going to learn the hard way through this one today that you have to finish it.”
Lane had a more optimistic outlook after the loss.
“I think we learned we can play with anybody in the country,” Lane said, but Rhoades was disappointed in his team’s ability to hold the late lead.
“We have to learn how to finish off games,” Rhoades said. “The biggest thing to me is that you can’t beat yourself. When you get that lead, you have to be solid on defense and you have to take care of the ball and get good shots on offense, and we didn’t do that.”
Ultimately, the newly-crowned head man saw Wednesday’s loss as a learning opportunity for a young VCU squad with little crunch-time experience.
“We just have to get better,” Rhoades added. “Sometimes you learn the hard way like we are right now. We’re going to use this to get better and better and hopefully late in games we can close them out.”
University of California
VCU thumped the Cal Golden Bears 83-69 in the team’s first consolation game Tuesday evening in Maui.
It was all De’Riante Jenkins Tuesday, as the sophomore swingman put up a career high 27 points on 11-for-15 shooting. The Eutawville, S.C. product also racked up 11 rebounds and drained 5 threes on the night.
“I just went out and tried to be aggressive,” Jenkins said following the win. “[Issac Vann] went down yesterday and he’s a big part of the team, so I had to step up.”
Rhoades — who is known to harp on the importance of defense — was quick to interject and point out how that translated to Jenkins’ offensive game Tuesday.
“It was because of his defense,” Rhoades said. “He played great defense today and it carried over to his offense.”
Rhoades said he was happy with the way his team bounced back after what was a heartbreaking loss to Marquette Monday.
“I’m really proud of our guys’ response from yesterday,” he said. “I told these guys last night and today that the team that gets over yesterday’s game will give themselves a better chance. They did a good job of focusing on what we had to do.
“I thought our defense was much better today,” Rhoades added. “I thought we rebounded and our guards got much more involved on the glass early on in the game, and that set the tone. We shared the ball and I thought we did a much better job of getting the lane and making some plays.”
The Black and Gold dropped their first game in this year’s Maui Invitational tournament when they fell to the Marquette Golden Eagles 94-83 Monday afternoon in sunny Hawaii.
Monday’s contest was a shootout, as the two teams combined for 23 made threes on the afternoon, but ultimately the Rams could not keep up.
Sophomore guard Malik Crowfield led the team in scoring with 17 points after nailing five of his seven attempts from beyond the arc. Senior forward Justin Tillman and fellow sophomore Jenkins joined the sharpshooting swingman in double digits, racking up 15 and 11 points, respectively.
Monday’s loss was perhaps more painful than normal after sophomore wing Issac Vann went down halfway through the game’s second half with what was later diagnosed as a high ankle sprain in his left leg. Vann — the Rams’ second-leading scorer with 12.5 points-per-game — will be re-evaluated this week, Rhoades said.
Rhoades blamed Monday’s loss on lapses in defensive focus — something his team has struggled with to this point in the season.
“We have a lot of fight and we can score the ball,” he said, “but we’ve got to guard. I think for the guys want to go play and ‘ball out,’ as I like to say, but you’ve got to get tough on the defensive end. If you want to beat teams like Marquette, you have to get stops and consecutive stops.”
Ultimately, though, Rhoades said the blame falls on him and his coaching staff and added that the kind of defensive focus he demands is something that will come with time.
“I love the fight of my team,” Rhoades said. “I love how much they love playing with each other, they care about each other, they celebrate each other’s successes. Now it starts with me. We’ve just got to get better and better on the defensive end.”
The Rams look to bounce back when they return to Richmond to take on the visiting Appalachian State University Tuesday night at the Stu. Tip is set for 7 p.m.
Nick Versaw, Staff Writer
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