Arrick Wilson, Sports Editor
The VCU men’s basketball program season ended Friday, March 17 after a 63-51 loss against St. Mary’s College of California Gaels in the first round of the NCAA March Madness tournament.
VCU head coach Mike Rhoades said he was happy about the success the team accumulated this season, even after the season ending.
“I’ve been coaching for a while now. This is one of my most enjoyable seasons I’ve ever had. We were tough all year long, and we stayed together,” Rhoades said. “Very grateful, I love these guys and I’m a proud coach. Disappointing results today, but I’m a proud coach.”
St. Mary’s players junior center Mitchell Saxen and senior forward Alex Ducas both led the game with 17 points. Two other St. Mary’s players were also in double figures.
VCU junior guard Adrian “Ace” Baldwin Jr. led the Rams with 13 points and 3 assists while battling an injury. In the second half, Baldwin went down holding his lower leg. Baldwin strained his Achilles and groin, according to Rhoades.
At the end of the first half, St. Mary’s led VCU, 29-28. It was back and forth in the early minutes of the game with both teams adjusting. The black and gold shot well at the half, but could not defend the ball down low, as Saxen had 10 points at the half.
Rhoades said the St. Mary’s post-offense was tough to beat and the Rams were unable to defend them.
“They’re big, and they’re physical,” Rhoades said. “We’ve been doing really good playing downhill all year long, but it’s not good enough to beat St. Mary’s today.”
In the second half, the once-contested game was no more as the Gaels simply ran away with the win. Not only did the Gaels score 34 points in that half, but they held VCU to the second-lowest scoring output of the season, according to VCU Athletics.
The defense for the Gaels held the black and gold to shooting just 22% from the field in the second half, as St. Mary’s pulled away for the win.
Rhoades said he was proud the team continued to play cohesive and as one throughout the season.
“They played for each other, they played for the name on the front of the jersey, more than the name on the back,” Rhoades said. “As a coach, I’m grateful for that.”
VCU graduate senior forward Brandon Johns Jr. said his year at VCU has been something he would not forget.
“It’s been a truly unforgettable year,” Johns said. “Unfortunately it had to end today, but I’m really proud of everyone.”
VCU senior David Shriver said he has spent many years playing college basketball, but this season with the Rams was his favorite.
“This is one of the best,” Shriver said. “Coming here — me and the guy’s blended really well. This is the best year I had of college basketball, and just being able to come here and win two championships.”
Looking forward past this game, Rhoades said he wants to help players leaving and support players becoming Rams.
“You talk to everybody, the guys that are moving on — you help them, still love them. They give you their time, their effort, their sweat, you still help them,” Rhoades said. “Then you go find guys that want to come to VCU and win.”
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