VCU men’s basketball rallied past Saint Joseph’s in Homecoming game comeback, 73-69

VCU fourth-year guard Zeb Jackson guards Saint Joseph's guard. VCU beat Saint Joseph's, 73-69 on Homecoming night. Photo by Andrew Hill.

Thailon Wilson, Sports Editor

VCU beat Saint Joseph’s University 73-69 on Sunday, Feb. 25, to cap off their celebration for the black and gold Homecoming game.

The men’s basketball team faces an A-10 opponent every year during Homecoming, while also celebrating the night with a tailgate before the game and festivities during the game.

VCU head coach Ryan Odom said that winning the game in front of the sold-out crowd was special. 

“The crowd was great, they gave us energy,” Odom said. “I can’t say enough about the crowd that we had here tonight.”

The Hawks are the No. 3 offense in the conference with an average of 76.5 points per game, according to Atlantic 10.

The Rams are ranked the No. 3 defense in the conference and only allow opponents to score an average of 66.3 points per game, according to Atlantic 10.

The tip-off commenced with SJU winning the first possession after the sold-out crowd applauded for the starting lineup announcements. 

Neither team was able to score during the first two minutes until SJU second-year forward Rasheer Fleming made two free throws to give the Hawks a 2-0 lead at the 18-minute mark. 

VCU graduate student forward Kuany Kuany was fouled on the next possession on a three-point attempt and made all three free throws, giving the 3-2 lead right back to the Rams. 

The Rams and the Hawks went back-and-forth trading buckets, with VCU maintaining a 5-4 lead, going into a 15-minute-mark media timeout.
Coming off the timeout, both teams continued to trade baskets, but Saint Joseph’s took a 10-7 lead off a three-pointer by SJU first-year guard Xzavyier Brown at the 13-minute mark 

VCU second-year Toibu “Tobi” Lawal scored a dunk off a pass by VCU fourth-year guard Max Shulga to bring the Hawks’ lead to 10-9 with 11 minutes remaining in the first half. 

Lawal led the Rams with 16 points and 10 rebounds this game. 

Coach Odom said Lawal’s potential is through the roof and we are only seeing the beginning of it.

“He’s just scratching the surface,” Odom said. “The best is coming for him.”

Neither team was able to score the ball, but Brown hit another three-pointer to increase the lead. This started an 8-0 run for the Hawks and they led 18-9 at the seven-minute mark. 

VCU graduate forward Sean Bairstow was fouled and made both of his free throws to lower the lead to 18-11 with six minutes remaining in the first half. 

The black and gold and SJU went shot-for-shot making baskets but the Hawks maintained a 23-16 lead with three minutes remaining in the half. 

The Rams scraped away at SJU’s lead, but the Hawks maintained a 6-point advantage heading into halftime. 

VCU shot only 20% from the field as well as only 10% from the three-point arc for the entire first half, according to Statbroadcast.

During halftime, VCU held the Homecoming divinity celebration, where current VCU students who have been running for Homecoming royalty came onto the court. 

Each classification had two members of royalty announced, and each of the winners received a stache and a crown to represent their royalty and school spirit. 

After halftime ended, VCU started the half with the ball, and Bairstow was fouled and made both free throws to give the Rams the first points of the second half. 

VCU fourth-year guard Joe Bamisile said coach Odom told the team they did great defensively and that offense would come naturally in the second half.

“Coach was like ‘if we keep doing what we do on defense eventually the tide will turn on offense’ and it sure did,” Bamisile said.

This initiated a 9-0 run for the Rams, giving them a 30-27 lead with 17 minutes remaining in the game. This was the Rams’ first lead since they led 5-4 early in the first half.

Saint Joseph’s and VCU traded a pair of buckets, but VCU still held a 32-29 lead with 15 minutes remaining in the second half. 

The Rams then went on a 5-0 run to increase the lead to 37-29 with 14 minutes left. SJU’s Brown then scored a three-pointer to weaken VCU’s momentum. 

This initiated more back-and-forth scoring between the two teams, but the Rams were up 40-34 at the 12-minute mark. 

SJU third-year guard Erik Reynolds II made back-to-back three-pointers, lowering the black and gold’s lead to 42-40. Bamisile made a three-pointer in response, making the lead 45-40 with nine minutes remaining. 

Shulga said Bamisile’s ability to score was key in this game. 

“That’s what Joe does, he scores the ball,” Shulga said. “It’s really great for us and I know he’ll continue to do that.”

VCU and SJU went shot-for-shot but the Rams held a 47-43 lead after a Lawal dunk at the seven-minute mark. 

Bamisile hit a three-pointer followed by another Lawal dunk to give the Rams a 52-43 lead over the Hawks. This quick 4-0 run by the black and gold caused a timeout call by SJU. 

SJU went on a 5-0 run, but Bamisile snapped it with a three-pointer, increasing the Rams’ lead to 55-48 with five minutes left. 

The Rams and Hawks went back to the shot-for-shot aggressive style of play, but the Rams held on until the final buzzer and won 73-69.

VCU plays against The University of Rhode Island on Wednesday, Feb. 28 at 6:30 p.m. at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.

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