Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
Men’s Basketball held on to knock Duquesne off its five-game win streak 80-74 in Pittsburgh as redshirt-junior guard Marcus Evans and sophomore forward Marcus Santos-Silva combined for 42 points.
Evans played with a sprained ligament in his left thumb that was injured at a Jan. 25 practice and wore a wrap on his hand to protect it.
“You could tell early on he was trying to figure that out, but once the competitiveness took over, he started being more aggressive downhill,” coach Mike Rhoades said on the Ram Radio postgame show. “He can make some tough two’s, but I thought he dropped it off [to Santos-Silva]. He didn’t fight the game, and I thought his defense late in the game really helped us.”
Evans scored a team-high 22 points and three steals in the win. He was also 9-for-11 from the free-throw line at Duquesne.
Santos-Silva recorded a double-double, the third of his career, with a career-high 22 points and 12 rebounds. His career-high was previously 17 points, which he recorded against Rhode Island Jan. 23.
Four Rams (14-6, 5-2 Atlantic 10) were in double figures in the win over the Dukes (14-6, 5-2 A-10): junior guard De’Riante Jenkins (13), redshirt-junior forward Issac Vann (11), Evans and Santos-Silva.
“It was gutty, it was hard,” Rhoades said. “If you want to win on the road, you’ve got to have road toughness. And road toughness is in so many different ways, how you respond to a missed shot, a bad call, a turnover, something [the Dukes] do well.”
The Rams held on for the win after allowing eight 3-pointers in the first half to the Dukes. VCU held Duquesne to 0-for-10 to start the second half from beyond the arc until late in the half when the Dukes made it interesting and nailed two threes.
“[Duquesne] got a lot of confidence in the first half with all those three’s,” Rhoades said. “I thought our guys showed some experience today and some road toughness…and we got a road win in the A-10 — that’s a big deal.”
VCU only shot 13 3-pointers, making three of them, but shot 48 percent total from the field.
“I thought in the second half we did a good job at getting downhill,” Rhoades said. “We didn’t chuck a bunch of threes today because they weren’t falling early and we did a good job at getting to the foul line, so I’m really proud of our guys — that was some road toughness.”
The contest started off very similar to the Jan. 23 loss at Rhode Island as Santos-Silva made the first four points for the Rams. VCU started on a 7-0 run to open the game as Jenkins hit an open three in transition as well.
VCU held a 10-point lead early on, but the Dukes cut into it and took the lead, using a 16-0 run over a four and a half minute span midway through the first half.
Duquesne’s Gavin Bizeau nailed three baskets in a row at the tail end of the run to take the lead from the Rams. Bizeau hit two 3-pointers and a jump shot from the free throw line.
The Dukes held a five-point lead after the run and the Rams cut back into the lead as Vann went 4-for-4 from the line over two trips on back-to-back possessions.
VCU and Duquesne traded blows until late in the first half when the Dukes hit back-to-back threes by Tavian Dunn-Martin and Frankie Hughes in a 24-second span.
The Rams had a six-point lead halfway through the second half that was capitalized by a Santos-Silva dunk, but then he was assessed a technical foul for blowing kisses to the Duquesne fans after the slam.
After Duquesne tied the game up, VCU built an eight-point lead with about three minutes on the clock. The Dukes cut into the lead once again, getting as close as four, but the Rams held on for the win.
The Rams forced 17 Duquesne turnovers scoring 24 points off of the errors. VCU also out rebounded the Dukes 45-29 in the contest.
The Rams will return to the Siegel Center Feb. 2 to host George Mason at 6:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network.