No. 8 VCU men’s basketball extended its 2017-18 season Thursday with a heart-stopping 77-72 victory over the No. 9 Flyers of Dayton University in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
All-Atlantic 10 First Team selection Justin Tillman led the way with 15 points and 10 rebounds — the senior forward’s 17th double-double of the season in what has been a dominant senior swansong for the Black and Gold stalwart.
Senior guard Jonathan Williams, sophomore wings De’Riante Jenkins and Issac Vann and freshman forward Sean Mobley joined Tillman in double figures with 14, 11, 10 and 11, respectively.
“(The underclassmen) bring energy for us, they uplift us,” Tillman said.
VCU held the lead for almost the entire first 32 minutes of the game, except a mere 42 seconds in the first half, until Dayton went on an 8-0 run with eight minutes to play — from that point on it was a battle to the finish.
Dayton led 70-65 with three minutes remaining before VCU coach Mike Rhoades took a timeout, and the Black and Gold took over.
“The spirit of our team the last few minutes of the game told a story to me,” Rhoades said. “I told them in the time out at the end, ‘get three stops and we’ll get a win,’ and it was maybe the three best stops of the season.”
Jenkins hit a corner three out of the stoppage to cut the Flyer lead to just two, and the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. was immersed in “let’s go VCU” chants from that point onward. Per usual, RamNation out-traveled their conference counterparts.
Back-to-back Dayton shot clock violations fed the VCU fire. Sensing a departure from the typical late-game woes of this season, the VCU attendees in D.C. urged their embattled Rams toward redemption at the tail end of a sub-par campaign.
Williams supplied the dagger with 49.6 seconds remaining. The caggy senior converted a vintage acrobatic lay-in off glass to give VCU a 72-70 lead, finishing with his off-hand after switching sides in mid-air to create space.
Stops and free throws down the stretch sealed the deal, as Rhoades and his Rams finally refused to let a late lead slip from their grasp.
“It’s about time we finish a game,” Rhoades said.
Now comes the day of reckoning for the Black and Gold. VCU will take on No. 1 Rhode Island University in the 2018 Atlantic 10 Tournament quarterfinals Friday at noon in D.C. The “other” Rams will be heavily favored, as they downed VCU 81-68 at the Siegel Center in February. All hopes of the Rams extending their coveted streak of seven consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances rides on three more wins in the next three days and an A-10 tournament title, as an at-large bid went by the wayside long ago.
Sophia is a senior print/online journalism student pursuing a minors in history and gender, sexuality and women’s studies. Over the summer she interned at ABC7-WJLA in the sports department. She enjoys writing about current events and sports and hopes to one day be a sports reporter on the sidelines of game seven of the NBA Finals or in the press box at the World Series.
Zach is a junior pursuing a dual degree in print journalism and English. A proud Norfolk-ian, he enjoys long walks on the beach, English literature of the romantic period and anything pertaining to Harry Potter or baseball. Zach is an avid Red Sox and Patriots fan who can usually be found working at the Student Media Center or running along the James.