VCU basketball put on a dominant showing Friday night in their season opener as they dismantled visiting Grambling State University 94-65 at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.
The game marked a significant milestone for the Black and Gold, as it was the program’s 100th-consecutive sellout. Newly-crowned coach Mike Rhoades — who was with the program at the sellout streak’s onset in January 2011 as part of Shaka Smart’s staff — said it was an honor to open his VCU’s head coaching career on such a momentous occasion.
“It was a big night for VCU basketball,” Rhoades said. “I’m totally honored to be the coach here in our first game…when I was walking out, I was like, ‘This is really happening. I’m the coach at VCU,’ and I don’t take it lightly.”
The Rams were led by senior forward Justin Tillman and senior guard Johnny Williams, as the duo — along with sophomore guard/forward De’Riante Jenkins — led the team in scoring with 14 points each. Tillman also slotted in 10 rebounds in just 17 minutes of action to tally the game’s only double-double performance.
The senior big was placed on a minutes restriction by the coaching staff due to a lingering foot injury during the preseason, but Rhoades said he was thrilled with the way Tillman played in his limited action.
“Twenty (minutes) was the number, but we got 17, which was even better,” Rhoades said. “But I asked him after the game and he said, ‘I feel good, coach. I’ll be able to go on Monday.’ So he’ll be good to go. I mean, 14 and 10 in 17 minutes — those are pretty good numbers.”
The Rams, behind five double-digit scorers, dominated the game in just about every statistical category. They out-rebounded the Tigers 49-35 while shooting over 45 percent from the field and 44 percent from three.
Despite the dominant performance from the Black and Gold, Rhoades said he’s always looking for ways to improve.
“It was good for the first night, but we have to get better,” Rhoades said following the win. “As we move along, there’s a lot of things we have to work on, but it was definitely a good start.”
Friday night was the best shooting performance the Rams have had to-date under Rhoades, as the team made 15 threes on the night. Jenkins, fellow sophomore guard Malik Crowfield and freshman forward Sean Mobley each chipped in with three made threes Friday. Rhoades said he was especially happy with the way his team moved the ball to find the open shot.
“I want our guys to have a green light and to play with freedom,” Rhoades said. “The ball was hot and moving around and multiple guys made shots and that creates great confidence. We want to always play that way.”
Fan-favorite Williams was perhaps the catalyst for the Rams, as the Richmond native put up an impressive 14 points and five assists. Williams — who has, in the past, not been known for his shooting ability — sank his fourth and fifth three-pointers of his career Friday night in front of the home crowd, showcasing the senior’s continuing drive to improve as both a player and a leader.
Rhoades said he was thrilled with the way Williams took command Friday night.
“I couldn’t even get a word in every timeout,” Rhoades said. “Johnny was running the show. I could have gone up and sat in the crowd today. He was just telling the guys to keep it up and motivating them and that was great.”
Friday’s big win gave several of the Rams’ new faces an opportunity to show what they can do in front of the home crowd, and Rhoades said he was overjoyed with the way his new guys played in their first taste of regular season action.
“I loved how a lot of guys played and gave us some really good minutes,” Rhoades said. “The young guys got some really good minutes right out of the gate, so it was a good team win.”
Overall, Rhoades said he was thrilled with his team’s performance and his players’ willingness to get their teammates involved.
“What I was most impressed with today was, when we were pushing the ball and our offense got hot, that ball was hot and guys were sharing that,” Rhoades said. “That’s good basketball…we harp on that all the time. If you make your teammates better, that’s coming back to you tenfold…It was a great start.”
The Rams continue their 2017-18 campaign as they take on visiting North Florida University Monday, before hosting in-state powerhouse, the University of Virginia, Friday night at The Stu.
Nick Versaw, Staff Writer