Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
Coach Mike Rhoades said he wanted the late-game Jan. 20 loss against St. Bonaventure to serve as a learning experience for the men’s basketball team before they played in Friday’s rematch.
The Bonnies erased the Rams’ 15-point halftime lead during the Jan. 20 matchup in Olean, New York, winning the game 70-54.
“If we don’t learn from this second half, then it’s a failure,” Rhoades said after the Jan. 20 game. “I don’t think these guys are failures.”
Since the blowout loss, the Rams won their last five games, bringing them to the top of the Atlantic 10 conference standings for the first time this season. The black and gold knocked off St. Bonaventure from the top ranking after Friday’s rematch with a score of 67-64 in the friendly confines of the Stuart C. Siegel Center.
“I told our guys the way we get out of that is together, and we’ve got to grow and learn,” Rhoades said after the win on Friday. “All of this stuff is a learning experience if you accept it that way. … I think that has been the biggest thing in the last five games.”
Sophomore guard Bones Hyland said the win streak has been a “confidence booster” for the team and that the Rams are a target now in A-10 play.
“Just never get relaxed or comfortable,” Hyland said. “I would say each and every game we have to come out like we’re basically coming off a horrible season. We just have to come out and play hard.”
VCU will host Richmond on Wednesday, the first of two meetings between the two crosstown rivals.
The game was originally scheduled to be played at the Robins Center on Richmond’s campus, but the venue was switched to avoid a scheduling conflict. Richmond will now host the black and gold in their final matchup of the season on March 6.
Last season, the two teams split their meetings, each winning at home. The Rams knocked off Richmond at the Siegel Center 87-68 and then fell 77-59 at Richmond less than a month later.
Richmond — fifth in the A-10 standings — has an experienced group with 10 players who are juniors, seniors and graduate students. Rhoades said his young team with eight freshman and sophomore players will have to learn from experience in late-season games.
“Some of our guys are going through this for the first time with meaningful games at the end of the year,” Rhoades said. “We just got to go through it.”
Richmond’s offense ranks third in the A-10 in points per game with 77.2, trailing UMass and Saint Louis. The Spiders lead the conference in field goal percentage with a 48.9% clip.
The way to stop Richmond is to disrupt their flow of offense, Rhoades said.
“Our defense, we want to try to disrupt them,” Rhoades said. “We want to make it really hard for them to do what they do because on defense, it’s what we do.”
Jacob Gilyard leads the Spiders on the defensive end, leading the NCAA in steals per game. Rhoades said he and Blake Francis are two defenders that have a knack at finding the ball.
“They have guys like [Blake] Francis and [Jacob] Gilyard — they hawk the ball,” Rhoades said. “They cause issues just because they pressure and have such great feel on the defensive end.”
The rivalry game will provide a matchup of two of the A-10’s top defensive point guards with freshman guard Ace Baldwin on Gilyard. Gilyard ranks first in the conference in steals per game with 3.8 and Baldwin is tied for second with Hyland at 2.1.
“It’s going to be a big matchup because those two are going to play a lot of minutes and probably guard each other,” Rhoades said of the two guards. “It’s not one-on-one, man, it’s five-on-five. It’s our team against their team.”