Arrick Wilson, Interim Sports Editor
The VCU men’s basketball program battled against some of the highly ranked schools in Division I basketball last week, placing fourth overall at the Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
In the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Rams faced teams like: the Baylor Bears, now the defending national champion; the Syracuse Orange; and the UConn Huskies, who are currently ranked 22nd overall among Division I teams by the Associated Press.
Even though the Rams didn’t place top three in the tournament, there was still positivity from players after not backing down from some of the top-rated teams in the nation.
“I feel like we can play with anybody in the country,” said sophomore forward Mikeal Brown-Jones in the postgame press conference.
On Nov. 24, the first game of the tournament, the Rams faced off against the Syracuse Orange and won 67-55. Graduate forward Levi Stockard led the Rams with 15 points, four rebounds and four assists. Junior guard Marcus Tsohonis also had 12 points and three assists.
Stockard was a force in the paint, driving into the free-throw lane using his size and quickness. He made all of his five free throws, making him a danger to foul on the lane.
For the Syracuse Orange, senior guard Buddy Boeheim led with 20 points and six rebounds, and his brother, graduate forward Jimmy Boeheim, additionally had 17 points and 12 rebounds.
VCU men’s basketball head coach Mike Rhoades expressed how proud he was of his team, defeating and upsetting a team like Syracuse early in the tournament.
“I’ve been doing this for a while now. I’m just so proud of our team. I’m the proudest I’ve ever been,” Rhoades said in a statement after the Syracuse game.
The Orange led the Rams 27-23 at the halfway point of the game. In the first half, the lead changed four times leading to a back-to-back close contest. The Rams came back in the second half, making over half of their shots. While the Rams successfully scored points, the Orange struggled, making less than half of their shots.
The Havoc press defense play was effective in stopping the Orange from scoring and getting their offense together. The Rams had eight blocks and 10 steals. The defense for the Rams interrupted the Orange making shots from beyond the 3-point line, holding the Orange to only five 3-pointers all game.
“I thought we did a pretty good job of just making them take tough ones [3-pointers], contested ones — you know, push them out a little bit,” Rhoades said. “I think we did a great job.”
The black and gold ended the game scoring a season-high total of 67 points. Senior guard KeShawn Curry said that scoring points increased morale for the Rams.
“It boosts confidence a lot. We feel like we can play with anybody on any floor,” Curry said.
On Nov. 25, in the quarterfinal game versus the Baylor Bears, the Rams lost 69-61. Baylor senior forward Matthew Mayer led the Bears with 15 points and six rebounds, and Baylor freshman guard Kendall Brown had the second-highest amount with 14 points.
Rams senior forward Vince Williams led with 17 points, three rebounds and five assists and Stockard also had 13 points and six rebounds.
Williams was essential from the 3-point line, leading the Rams with a team high of three. The senior led Rams in assists, being the key distributor with the rock.
Rhoades said he was pleased with the Rams’ efforts in pushing the number-four nationally ranked team, according to the Associated Press, to its brink.
“We’re really proud of our guys’ effort today. I thought, at times we put Baylor on their heels,” Rhoades said. “I was really proud of our guys. And you know, from an emotional end yesterday, to come right back and battle these guys the way we did, I was proud of them.”
The black and gold trailed the Bears 29-27 at the end of the first half. While the Bears held the lead, the Rams held a strong defense against the Bears, ensuring they didn’t score any points during the last five minutes of the first half.
Stockard was crucial for the black and gold in the paint, scoring the last seven of the Rams’ points in the first half.
“I just came to play. My teammates need me. Coach said I needed to step up, and I stepped up for my team,” Stockard said.
The Bears led the Rams for the majority of the game, clocking in a lead time of 37 out of 40 minutes. During the rest of the game, the Bears continued to hold their lead and win.
“They were really scrappy, they’re some dogs. So, I mean, I got to give it up to them. They play really hard, and I respect them for that,” opposing player Mayer said, of the Rams’ performance.
On Nov. 26, in the final game for the third-place trophy, the Rams fell to the UConn Huskies, 70-63. Opposing graduate guard R.J. Cole led the Huskies with 26 points, and Huskies graduate forward Isaiah Whaley was the second-leading scorer with 16 points and four rebounds.
For the Rams, freshman guard Jayden Nunn led the Rams with 21 points, eight rebounds and four steals. Williams also had nine points, four rebounds and two blocks.
The Rams led the Huskies 28-26 at the halfway point of the game. In the first half, the game was close, with both teams alternately making point runs while holding strong defensive fronts against their opponents.
At the end of the regulation, the Rams and Huskies were tied 56-56. In overtime, the Huskies ran away with the game, scoring 14 points, while the Rams only scored seven.
Rhoades said he concentrated on the Rams not losing focus or making bad decisions, during the tournament.
“It comes down to this, to be good teams — it starts first by not beating yourself,” Rhoades said. “You got to not beat yourself with turnovers, lack of execution down the stretch, bad fouls, not making free throws. You got to learn to not beat yourself before you can be really good teams, like UConn and Baylor.”
The Rams will try to carry their success from the early season tournament onto the next two home games versus Campbell on Dec. 4, and Jacksonville State on Dec. 8.
The Rams will host a home game against the Campbell Fighting Camels on Dec. 4 at 4 p.m., at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. For ticket information, visit vcuathletics.com. The game will be televised on MASN and ESPN+.