Sluggish second half leads VCU to to its sixth loss in seven games

Freshman guard Bones Hyland scored 17 points to lead the Rams against Davidson. CT file photo

Ryan Grube, Staff Writer

Men’s basketball came out with a different and efficient tonality on the offensive end at Davidson on Friday night, much like they did in their senior night match against Duquesne three days prior.

Then, a similar finish unfolded. After unleashing a flurry of 3-point baskets to the tune of a 67% clip in the first half, the Rams went cold, and the scoring droughts returned for the black and gold en route to a 75-65 defeat at the hands of the Wildcats.

“We got away from the game plan,” junior forward Marcus Santos-Silva said of VCU’s second-half woes on Friday. “The first half, we were doing everything good, guarding. In the second half, we got away, and we were giving them too many threes.”

The Rams utilized threes from freshman guard Bones Hyland and senior guard Mike’l Simms to jump out to a quick 8-5 lead in the early going.

After the black and gold’s 6-0 spurt, Davidson answered with a 6-0 run of its own, finished off by a triple from Jon Axel Gudmundsson. The Wildcats led by 3 points with just over 12 minutes remaining before the halftime break.

As both teams traded buckets for much of the first half, Davidson built a 4-point lead on back-to-back jumpers — a 2-pointer and a three, respectively — by freshman forward Hyunjung Lee.

VCU’s hot shooting continued with a 3-pointer from freshman guard Tre Clark. Hyland sunk a triple of his own to give the black and gold a 2-point advantage with more than four minutes to play in the first half.

Hyland’s three — his second of the game — marked the 60th make from behind the arc for the Wilmington, Delaware, native, breaking the mark for most converted 3-point attempts for a freshman, previously set by VCU legend B.A. Walker. 

“We lost, but it’s a good accomplishment,” Hylad said of passing Walker. “I would have rather come out with the W.”

The Rams carried a 2-point lead into the tunnels. The mistakes that have doomed them in conference play returned for coach Mike Rhoades and company down the stretch Friday night.

Hyland kickstarted the second half with another triple to extend the black and gold’s lead to 5 points, their largest advantage of the night.

But with every VCU bucket, the Wildcats had an answer and more for the Rams. Two free throws from Axel Gudmundsson netted the game at 51 apiece with a little over 12 minutes remaining.

The 10-0 Davidson run that followed energized the crowd at John M. Belk Arena, and the Rhoades’ bunch lost steam.

Clark ended the 4-minute scoreless stretch with a layup before the Rams were met with another 4-minute drought that sunk their winning hopes.

The dry spells offensively resulted in a 25-6 Wildcat run that spanned nearly 8 minutes. Rhoades offered a simple yet clear solution to solve his squad’s offensive issues: score the ball and execute on that end of the floor.

“Make open shots, take care of the ball, play inside-outside,” Rhoades said. “It’s crazy the shot qualities that we get. If we don’t have someone chuck a bad shot, we get good opportunities. We just don’t finish well enough.”

The loss drops VCU (18-13, 8-10 A-10) to ninth in the conference standings to close out the year. The Rams are slotted into a first-round game against UMass to open their Atlantic 10 Tournament — a game Rhoades said will be a handful.

“We gotta win four games to play in the NCAA Tournament, and it’s do or die,” Rhoades said. “I told the guys ‘Take this weekend off to get right, and let’s go to Brooklyn and see what happens.’”

The Rams will face off against the Minutemen at 12 p.m. on Thursday, March 12 in Brooklyn. The winner will play top-seeded Dayton in the quarterfinals on Friday.

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