Ryan Grube, Staff Writer
The shots were not falling early but VCU rode its stifling defense in a dominant performance on the offensive glass to a 78-48 win over Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday night.
The Rams improved to 5-0 on the season — the team’s best start since the 1993-94 campaign.
VCU missed its first eight shots from the field, including its first four attempts from 3-point range.
Twenty-seven forced turnovers by the black and gold, which turned into 37 points off the giveaways, were the deciding factors for head coach Mike Rhoades and company.
The Rams’ first points of the contest didn’t come until just over three minutes into the game when senior guard Mike’L Simms knocked down a trio of free throws after being fouled in the act of shooting a three.
Senior guard Marcus Evans said while their shot attempts weren’t dropping in the first half, the team got the looks they desired.
“I don’t think it was sloppy or anything like that. I think we got good shots,” Evans said. “There was a lid on the basket to start the game. Those are shots that as the game went on, they fell down — it was just getting our feet under us.”
Once the first media timeout passed, VCU found its footing. Senior guard Issac Vann knocked down a 3-pointer, junior forward Marcus Santos-Silva added a layup and Evans responded with a three of his own — the floodgates had opened.
The Rams closed the first half on a 17-0 run, finished off by another triple from Evans. Rhoades and his crew led 43-16 at the break.
Evans paced the Rams with 16 points — all in the first half — on 5-10 shooting from the floor. Senior guard De’Riante Jenkins chipped in 11 points and five steals for the black and gold.
Santos-Silva flirted with his third double-double of the season but fell just short of the milestone with 9 points and 11 rebounds.
The Taunton, Massachusetts, native was huge in creating second-chance opportunities for his teammates. As a team, VCU finished with 19 offensive rebounds, compared to just eight for the visiting Eagles.
Rhoades said his players’ tenacity on the offensive glass was vital with his team not shooting well from the field to open the contest.
“When you create turnovers, and when you get extra offensive possessions, the numbers are skewed a little bit. But we’re getting opportunities,” Rhoades said. “When [Santos-Silva gets] offensive rebounds like that and then sprays it out, that’s just playing the right way.”
Rhoades’ bunch shot just 37% for the game — below their season average of 47% from the field entering Saturday’s matchup — but relentless pressure on the defensive side made up for his squad’s shooting lapses.
The offense fell cold again for a spell in the second half, during which the Eagles utilized a 13-1 run that spanned more than five minutes to trim the Rams’ lead to 21.
Senior guard Malik Crowfield broke a nearly three-minute scoring drought for VCU with a triple from the left wing to help punctuate a commanding victory for the black and gold.
Rhoades said no matter his guys’ offensive production on a given night, his team’s defense will always be disruptive for their opponents.
“Everybody knows that if we play defense at a high level like we have been doing, it will always give us a chance to win a game,” Rhoades said. “Our guys know that. It’s just what we do at a high level.”
The Rams will return to the Siegel Center on Monday for the final game of their six-game homestand when they take on Alabama State at 7 p.m.