Ryan Grube, Staff Writer
When redshirt-senior guard Marcus Evans rolled into today’s shootaround, coach Mike Rhoades noticed something different in Evans’ legs since his injury last season.
“I said to him today in shootaround, the way he was shooting the ball and moving around off his feet, I said, ‘your legs look a lot stronger, you like you’re feeling well,’” Rhoades said.
Little did the two know, Evans would erupt for 25 points — tying his career high at VCU — just a few hours later.
Evans led the Rams to their first 6-0 start in program history as the black and gold defeated Alabama State 78-62 on Monday night to cap team’s six-game homestand.
Rhoades said Evans’ play was huge for his team today, but the coach added his redshirt-senior’s performance wasn’t anything he hasn’t seen from Evans in the five years they have been together.
“I’ve seen that a bunch before, and that’s a good sign,” Rhoades said. “I thought he did a good job of getting downhill, and making plays for his teammates. We don’t want him in foul trouble, but him guarding the ball full court — that’s a great advantage for us.”
Unfortunately for Rhoades and company, Evans got into foul trouble early with two in the first half. He picked up his fourth personal foul with just over 10 minutes remaining in the contest.
The call, which drew immense boos from the crowd, forced Rhoades to rely on freshman guard Bones Hyland for extended minutes in Evans’ absence.
Hyland played 20 minutes — above his 15-minute average coming into Monday’s game — chipping in 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the floor.
Rhoades said he was especially pleased with Hyland’s performance, given the tough decision to sit Evans for a large portion of the second half with the four fouls.
“It was great for him to be put in a pressure situation. I said, ‘Look at the scoreboard, what are you going to do with it now,’” Rhoades said. “He’s going to have to really play better here in the next month. But that’s why you throw freshmen into the battle, for sure. I was really proud of him.”
After Evans departed, VCU went cold shooting the ball. The Rams didn’t score for more than four minutes, and the Hornets cut their deficit to 12.
The black and gold took the lid off the basket with a Marcus Santos-Silva layup. Moments later, Hyland drilled a three, and senior guard De’Riante Jenkins threw down a fast-break dunk to cap off a quick 9-0 spurt by VCU.
The mini run put Alabama State’s hopes for a comeback to sleep, as the Rams rode their second team to a hard-fought victory down the stretch.
Rhoades said he was happy with his second team’s performance overall, but added he expects them to put together two consistent halves of basketball.
“They need to do their job. The last two games, they did very well in the first half,” Rhoades said. “They’ll get better at it, without a doubt. Getting this valuable time and experience early in the year with some of these big leads, I think it’s going to help us here in the next six games.”
Rhoades said he will continue to rely on his reserves off the bench with tough matchups lying ahead.
“We play some doozies coming up, and we’re going to need those guys to step up,” Rhoades said. “We don’t want anybody [getting] deer in the headlights. They’ve played enough minutes in the first six games to be ready to go for anybody for anybody we play down the road.”
The Rams will head to Florida for their first matchup against Purdue in the Emerald Coast Classic on Friday at 9:30 p.m.