Ryan Grube, Staff Writer
Slow starts plagued VCU at its two tournament games in the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida, last weekend and on Saturday as the Rams returned home to take on in-state rival ODU in the two teams’ 95th all-time matchup.
The black and gold fell behind early and trailed by as much as four points in the first half. The Monarchs, who entered the contest as 14-point underdogs, led by one at the break.
Then, coach Mike Rhoades lit a fire under his team. Rhoades entered the locker room and told his players what he thought of their first half performance.
“It wasn’t good enough,” Rhoades said he told his players. “We didn’t finish defensive plays, we didn’t play with enough pace. We weren’t physical, and I thought we were just out there.”
VCU outscored ODU 41-28 after the half on its way to a 69-57 victory to move to 7-2 on the young season.
The Rams emerged from the tunnels after the halftime intermission with added energy. Rhoades’ bunch didn’t want to fall down the same path as last year’s 62-52 defeat at the hands of the Monarchs — a game VCU let slip away in the second half.
“One of the things we thought about from last year was how we lost that big lead,” junior forward Marcus Santos-Silva said. “So, today, all the returners were telling the young guys, ‘Hey, do whatever we have to do to get this win.’”
VCU pounced on the Monarchs with a 23-10 stretch through the first 10 minutes, aided by a 13-3 run that spanned a little over five minutes.
Santos-Silva said a large part of the team’s second-half success was settling down on both ends of the ball. The junior said Rhoades told them to get back to their roots and play to their strengths.
“We were all uptight and just thinking about the last play,” Santos-Silva said. “[Rhoades] said to just forget everything, and just keep on playing and get back to our style of play.”
Senior guard Malik Crowfield keyed the Rams’ second-half spurt with three triples, separated by just one layup off the fingers of sophomore guard KeShawn Curry.
The LaPlace, Louisiana, native took three shots all night — all three-pointers — and didn’t miss from the field.
Rhoades said Crowfield’s hot shooting was a result of several open looks, but added he would like to see more shot attempts from his senior guard.
“It’s amazing when you take open threes, how they go in,” Rhoades said. “Shoot open ones, and work on it — it makes you an efficient shooter.”
Crowfield’s final shot from deep extended the black and gold’s lead to 13 with just under eight minutes remaining. The Rams would win the free throw battle from there.
VCU connected on 18 of 22 free throws and held its opponent to a mere 2-15 shooting from behind the arc.
The Rams will be back at the Siegel Center on Sunday, Dec. 15, for a matchup against Missouri State at 7 p.m.