Ryan Grube, Staff Writer
Throughout the season so far, men’s basketball coach Mike Rhoades has preached the importance of being able to put teams away after building sustainable leads.
That didn’t happen on Saturday, as despite the 76-65 victory, the Rams allowed La Salle to continuously hang around — notably after the black and gold built a 17-point lead following a 21-0 run in the first half.
“We get that lead, and I think we relax. I think we relax with our mental approach defensively,” Rhoades said. “When you’re on the road, it’s very dangerous to let a team back into it. We gotta get better with our mental approach, when we’re up on teams, to put them away.”
Rhoades attributed the lapses to his players letting their guard down and turning the ball over. VCU opened the game with five turnovers in its first seven possessions, which led to an early 5-0 lead for the Explorers.
“When you’re going to turn the ball over, everybody has a chance to beat you or stay in the game,” Rhoades said.
The Rams utilized the under-16 media timeout to settle down as a team, and Rhoades’ crew, aided by good looks from 3-point range, capitalized to lead by nine at the break.
VCU connected on 10-of-21 attempts from deep, finishing with a 46% shooting clip from the field.
Freshman guard Bones Hyland had three of the conversions from behind the arc and concluded the contest with 15 points and five assists. He played a major role down the stretch with senior guard Marcus Evans, who struggled to find his shot against numerous double team traps from La Salle.
Hyland’s last 3-pointer was his most significant. After the Explorers steamrolled on an 11-0 run to cut VCU’s lead to three with just over three minutes remaining, Hyland nailed a deep three to silence the home crowd at Tom Gola Arena.
Rhoades said Hyland has come a long way since October in his development, but the coach highlighted the freshman’s “spirit” as what sets him apart from typical freshmen.
“He’s capable of being a heck of a player for us right now,” Rhoades said. “He doesn’t want to disappoint the people who care about him. He doesn’t want to disappoint his coaches, his teammates, his family, of course. You love kids like that.”
Junior forward Marcus Santos-Silva followed up the triple with an emphatic block on the other end to help seal the back-and-forth game for the black and gold.
“Just both of us playing really hard,” Santos-Silva said of the sequence. “Bones [Hyland] made the point guard pick up his dribble, and I was able to run down and block it.”
Santos-Silva ended the afternoon with 16 points and nine rebounds, falling just shy of his eighth double-double of the season. Senior forward Mike’l Simms chipped in 13 points and five rebounds for VCU.
The Rams are heading for a quick turnaround in Richmond at home against their inner-city rival, the Spiders.
Santos-Silva said the team will watch film from Saturday’s contest before shifting their focus to Richmond ahead of Tuesday’s much-anticipated Capital City Classic.
The Rams will tip off against the Spiders on Jan. 28, at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.