Ryan Grube, Staff Writer
Coach Mike Rhoades mentioned one goal his team had ahead of Thursday night’s conference opener at the Siegel Center: start Atlantic 10 play at 1-0.
“Let’s find a way to be 1-0 in the league,” Rhoades said. “Half the league will be 0-1, half the league will be 1-0. We wanted to be one on top of the standings after tonight.”
VCU fulfilled its “sole purpose,” Rhoades said, rolling to a 64-46 victory over Fordham to earn its first conference win of 2020.
The team was a bit short-handed for their first action of the new year without senior guard Malik Crowfield, and they had to survive without redshirt-junior forward Corey Douglas, who is dealing with a minor foot sprain.
Rhoades said Douglas should be ready before Sunday’s matchup with George Mason, but his absence opened up extended minutes for fellow forwards junior Marcus Santos-Silva and freshman Hason Ward.
Santos-Silva embraced the mindset of playing added minutes. He said he didn’t worry about getting into foul trouble, even with his team down a man in the forward department.
“Just focus on the game plan and just do what I normally do, and just don’t let anything else come between that,” Santos-Silva said.
Ward exited the first half early after picking up two quick fouls. The freshman from Barbados returned to register back-to-back blocks just four minutes into the second half, as the home Rams built on their lead.
Ward finished with 6 points and three rebounds in 10 minutes of action — tied for his most minutes in a game this season. Rhoades said he’s been pleased with Ward’s development as the season has worn on.
“Hason is going to be a really good basketball player for VCU, and he’s fun to coach,” Rhoades said. “He’s just got to continue to know situations, but he’s getting there. He’s just getting better and better.”
The black and gold were led by senior guard Mike’L Simms, who put forth a season-high 14 points on 6-of-13 from the floor, including 2-for-6 from deep. The Richmond native also collected a season-high eight rebounds to go along with his hot shooting.
Simms said getting rebounds helps him get going offensively, allowing the rest of the offense to space the floor and open up shooting lanes.
VCU used a strong second-half defensive effort to take command of the game. Fordham trailed by just 10 at the half but Rhoades’ players ramped up their pressure and intensity, forcing 18 turnovers by their opponent.
Senior guard De’Riante Jenkins attributed the stifling performance to extensive preparation and a solid plan of attack from his head coach.
“It was the game plan, and knowing that they had to make threes,” Jenkins said. “We wanted to go into this game and guard the 3-point line, and I think we did a good job of executing the game plan.”
VCU limited Fordham to just 3-for-10 shooting from behind the arc, and the black and gold never trailed en route to their 11th victory of the 2019-20 campaign.
With the second half of the season in full swing, Rhoades said he knows there’s a target on his team’s back after they were picked as a conference preseason favorite. But the head coach noted the importance of not letting outside noise get to his crew.
“None of that stuff matters. It’s great news, it’s fun for our fans, but all that matters is how we play,” Rhoades said. “Put the blinders on, and prepare our team for the next game as best as we can.”
VCU will travel to George Mason on Sunday for its second conference matchup of the season at noon.