The Rams hosted a highly touted opponent Friday night at the Stu — No. 22 University of Rhode Island, AKA the ‘other’ Rams. A 47-31 rebounding advantage and 26-6 second chance point tally in favor of URI were the deciding factors in a 81-68 VCU loss.
Rhode Island came to town as the first top 25 team to come to the Stu this season, since the University of Virginia and University of Texas were unranked at the time. Rhode Island was riding a 13 game win streak and looked to remain undefeated in A-10 conference play. URI coach Dan Hurley said it was a welcome change of pace to bring a veteran team into Richmond and out-experience VCU after being on the other end of this scenario numerous times on Broad Street.
Freshman wing Sean Mobley made his fourth start of the season and came out hot with an and-1 early on in the action. Senior forward Justin Tillman was ready to play from the opening tip-off, hitting a three on his first shot of the game.
Rhode Island senior wing E.C Matthews excelled at creating space for himself all night — Matthews finished with 18 points on 5-13 shooting from the field.
Tillman — who ended up being the game’s leading scorer with 22 points and six rebounds — did most of his damage in the first half from the free throw line, as URI swarmed the preseason all-A-10 selection in the post from the word go. Despite a successful stat-line, Tillman struggled to find a rhythm against URI’s superior size down low.
VCU finally closed the small gap between the teams and tied the game at 27 with just above seven minutes to play in the first half. Rhodey called a timeout after VCU tied the game.
Out of the timeout, Rhode Island went a 9-0 run giving them the biggest lead of the game.
Mobley, who led all scores in the first half with 15, knocked down back-to-back threes, closing Rhode Island’s lead to just three.
A scary moment for the Black and Gold with a minute left in the first half momentarily sent the Stu into a hush. Senior guard Johnny Williams went down with a sprained ankle and was taken to the locker room. Williams did, however, return in the second half despite the scare, and coach Mike Rhoades said his senior point guard shook off the turned ankle just fine.
“I believe Johnny will be fine,” Rhoades said. “He’s a tough kid and he’s a senior.”
Rhode Island went into halftime with a slim 41-38 lead over the Rams — Tillman and Mobley scored 27 of VCU’s 38 points in the first half.
Rhodey’s leading scorer at the half was Jared Terrell with 12 points. Rhode Island tied their biggest lead of the game to open the second half, breaking the game open by extending their lead to 54-45.
The turnover bug followed the Rams into the second half and Rhode Island capitalized.
“Veteran teams like Rhode Island take advantage of your mistakes,” Rhoades said.
VCU was unable to put a dent in the URI lead throughout the second half, as the other Rams held the Black and Gold at a 9-10 point arms length the rest of the way.
Rhode Island freshman forward Cyril Langevine led the game on the glass with a massive 18 rebounds.
“That’s what I do,” Langevine said of his rebounding prowess after the game.
“If we didn’t give up offensive rebounds, we would’ve won the game,” Tillman said.
Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley complimented the young Rams after the game.
“I believe VCU will get better and finish as a top four team in this conference,” Hurley said.
Rhoades and his young Rams must regroup with all haste, as they stare down the barrel of a week of grudge matches. The Black and Gold have a date with the University of Richmond Wednesday night on the other side of town. After defeating UofR six consecutive times over the course of the past three seasons, the Rams were embarrassed by the Spiders earlier this campaign at the Stu by a final of 67-52. VCU will then welcome the University of Dayton Flyers to the Stu Saturday afternoon. Dayton trounced the Rams earlier this season in Ohio 106-79.
Nile McNair, Contributing writer