Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
Men’s Basketball took down Rhode Island 76-42 Tuesday behind a strong defense, holding the opposition to shooting 23.5 percent from the field in the second half.
The victory extended VCU’s (20-6, 11-2 Atlantic 10) winning streak to a season-high seven games and gave them sole possession of first place in the A-10. The Black and Gold were tied atop the standings with Davidson entering the game, but the Wildcats fell to Dayton just before the Rhode Island-VCU tip-off.
Sophomore forward Marcus Santos-Silva said the team was not focusing on the result of Dayton-Davidson, but on beating Rhode Island.
“All I said at halftime was, ‘You win, and you’re in first place,’’ coach Mike Rhoades said. “That’s not our goal and we have a lot of things we want to accomplish, from how far we’ve come from last year to now I’m proud of them. But we’re not done.”
Rhode Island (12-13, 5-8 A-10) only converted four field goals in the second half, including one 3-pointer. The Black and Gold also forced 20 Rhode Island turnovers, scoring 21 points off the errors.
VCU’s No. 2 defense in the country from beyond the arc held Rhode Island to shooting 18.2 percent from three.
Redshirt-junior guard Marcus Evans logged 9 points and nine rebounds in the win. He also had four steals in the contest.
Rhoades said Evans’ defense on Fatts Russell was “huge” and that VCU did not guard Russell as well in the previous meeting this season that Rhode Island won.
“I thought Marcus Evans set the tone. I thought he had a great floor game, point guard game, today,” Rhoades said. “I thought he controlled the defensive side of the ball for our team with the pressure on the ball and the way he contained the ball.”
Russell finished with 1 point in the contest, going 0-for-7 from the field and making one free throw. He averaged 13.2 points for Rhode Island entering the game, and he dropped 19 in the first meeting with VCU this year. Evans said Russell is one of the quickest guards he has faced all season.
“With him [Russell] being smaller, you just try to make him shoot over you, try to make him finish in the lane and just try to speed the whole offense up,” Evans said. “Going into this game, I told myself I wasn’t going to let him get comfortable. If he was going to have a high-scoring game, he was going to have to hit tough shots.”
Santos-Silva recorded his fifth double-double of the season, tallying 19 points and 12 rebounds.
“We just focused on [not] letting them get anything easy,” Santos-Silva said. “We felt like last game we let them get too comfortable in the second half, so today we just focused on getting stops.”
VCU used an early first half 7-0 run spanning about three minutes to build a 6-point lead over Rhode Island. During the run, Rhode Island was held scoreless for just under 3 1/2 minutes.
Freshman forward Vince Williams was all over the court midway through the first half as he hit an open 3-pointer in the corner, logged a steal and drew the foul from Rhode Island in his first three minutes on the floor.
Williams nailed his second three of the night a few minutes later from the same spot on the court. The Black and Gold then held Rhode Island in the defensive end, and sophomore forward Corey Douglas put back a missed shot to extend VCU’s lead to nine.
The 5-0 sequence forced Rhode Island to call a timeout in hopes of quieting the raucous Siegel Center crowd.
VCU went on a four-minute 10-0 run late in the first half, extending the lead to 19. The Black and Gold held Rhode Island off the scoreboard for almost seven minutes in the final 10 minutes of the first half.
“Once the shots stopped falling, I thought our defense took a little bit of a hit,” Rhode Island coach David Cox said. “Particularly towards the second half of the first half when they went on a little bit of a run.”
Rhode Island shot 35 percent from the field in the first half, including 1-for-5 from three. VCU shot 52 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc.
Santos-Silva dominated the paint to open the second half, as he logged 6 points in the first six minutes of the second half. The Black and Gold went on a 7-0 run early in the second half to push the lead to 25 — Santos-Silva had 4 of the 7 points.
VCU used a 9-0 run soon after the first second-half run to extend the lead to 31. The run lasted about five minutes, and the Black and Gold held Rhode Island scoreless for more than 5 1/2 minutes.
The Black and Gold finished the night shooting 50 percent from the field, including 40.7 percent from beyond the arc.