Men’s basketball won a pair of pivotal conference road games last week to improve to 14-8 on the season, 6-3 in A-10 play. The Black and Gold downed Saint Louis University 75-74 in overtime Tuesday night before handling George Mason University 84-76 Saturday afternoon in Fairfax.
An 84-76 final scoreline does not represent the dominance displayed by VCU against the Patriots of GMU Saturday. The Black and Gold led by as many as 17 in an affair that only featured two lead changes early in the first half.
“It was a good road win,” Rhoades said. “We let them get loose a little at the end there, but I thought we did a good job overall of making these guys make some tough plays.”
Senior forward Justin Tillman posted his 11th double-double of the season — 18 points and 11 rebounds — to lead the Black and Gold to victory. Sophomore wing De’Riante Jenkins and senior guard Jonathan Williams joined Tillman in double figures with 15 and 10, respectively.
Senior forward Khris Lane put up his best outing in a VCU uniform. The Longwood transfer posted a whopping 25 points and 12 rebounds to lead all scorers. Lane drove the lane with ease all afternoon, as the 6’7’, 245-lb big man took advantage of GMU’s undersized frontcourt.
“It’s like a ladder,” Lane said. “I’m getting better and better. The game is 80 percent mental and I’m getting more confident.”
The Patriots began fouling to stop the clock with over a minute left, resulting in the tight final scoreline. The Rams struggled at the line down the stretch, but the ultimate outcome was never in jeopardy.
“It’s a tough league,” Rhoades said. “We had a rough six-day stretch there, but I’m really proud of the way these guys have responded, led by Justin, Johnny and Khris. The neat thing about this time of year is you can either pack it in or keep fighting. There’s no way we’re gonna pack anything in…I like where we’re going.”
After dropping a multitude of winnable games early on this season, the Rams finally pulled one out that easily could have fallen through the cracks Tuesday evening in St. Louis, MO.
VCU trailed by as many as 13 points with 12:27 remaining in the game. The Black and Gold locked the Billikens down in crunch time, however, as St. Louis was held without a field goal for the final 8:27 of regulation.
After the Billikens sunk 1-2 from the line with a mere six seconds to play, VCU looked to be in dire straights. Then Jenkins came to the Rams’ rescue.
The dynamic sophomore wing raised up from the top of the key after a savvy pump fake from the right wing to make space for himself. ‘Derry’ converted the clutch three to knot things up at 61-61 and send the game into overtime.
Despite a hotly contested overtime period, the Black and Gold were on the front foot from Jenkins’ three through the final seconds of OT. A late three as time expired rendered the final score closer than the Black and Gold’s overtime dominance warranted. VCU took its first lead of the game 23 seconds into overtime on the strength of a Tillman put-back, and never relinquished the lead.
VCU has now rallied from a double-digit deficit to emerge victorious on four separate occasions this season. The resilient Rams will try and ride this mid-season momentum surge into a Friday night showdown with the ‘other’ Rams of Rhode Island University. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at the Stu on ESPN 2. No. 24 Rhody sits atop the A-10 at 17-3 overall, 9-0 in conference, two spots above the resurgent Black and Gold.
Zach Joachim, Sports Editor
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