Ryan Grube, Staff Writer
With just over two minutes remaining in Friday’s game, senior guard Mike’L Simms was 0-for-6 shooting from the field.
That goose egg quickly changed, as Simms knocked down two consecutive threes down the stretch to help propel VCU to a 59-56 win over North Texas on Friday night at the Siegel Center.
Simms said his teammates were the key in his ability to trust his jump shot with the game in the balance.
“I wouldn’t have hit them without them [my teammates], I wouldn’t have gotten the ball without them,” Simms said. “I’m happy I made the shots, but I’m happy that we trust each other.”
The Rams fell behind early, facing a first-half deficit as high as 8 points as the Mean Green came out with a combination of hot shooting and tough defense.
But VCU was able to withstand the first of several punches from North Texas. The black and gold rode a 20-2 run to a 10 point halftime lead.
Coach Mike Rhoades said he was pleased with how his team responded to the Mean Green’s blows. He added that tonight’s close-game situations will be huge in preparing for similar scenarios throughout the season.
“They’re confidence builders,” Rhoades said. “We’re lucky we won when you have some mental mistakes like that, but they’re builders. It has to teach us.”
After North Texas guard Umoja Gibson knocked down a 3-pointer to pull the game within one with 42 seconds remaining, senior guard Marcus Evans was fouled, sending him to the free throw line to shoot two pivotal foul shots.
Uncharacteristically, the senior missed both free throws, but Evans answered on the defensive side with a crucial steal to help seal the game with 13 seconds left.
Evans said he was determined to avenge his mistake at the foul line. He told his teammates that was the last time they will see him miss two free throws like that with the game on the line.
“I know my team expects me to make those free throws, and I expect that of myself,” Evans said. “Missing free throws like that, I know I have to make up for it one way or another, and I just went all out on the defensive end to try and make up for it.”
Evans finished with 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range. Senior guard De’Riante Jenkins added 12 points and five rebounds for the Rams.
As a team, VCU shot 10-26 from behind the arc. The 38% mark is a huge improvement from the team’s first contest, in which they shot just 3-of-13 from deep against St. Francis (Pa.).
Rhoades said while he was happy with his team’s uptick in shooting percentage, his players must concentrate on minimizing their turnovers. The black and gold have had 18 turnovers in each of their first two games.
“I’ll take 38% every night, but we can’t turn it over 18 times,” Rhoades said. “If we shoot 38% all year long, and get back down to 10, 12 turnovers, we’ll be in business.”
The Rams will be back at the Siegel Center on Wednesday for their much-anticipated matchup with LSU at 6 p.m.