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VCU survives opening night nail-biter against Saint Peter’s

A pair of crucial defensive stops in the last 10 seconds iced the game for the VCU Rams, as they defeated the Saint Peter’s Peacocks 57-54 in an opening night nail-biter at the Stuart C. Siegel Center in downtown Richmond.

With a 55-54 lead, junior forward Hason Ward forced a turnover and earned two free throws. Ward, a native of Barbados, missed both attempts.

Following the misses, KC Ndefo grabbed the rebound, but quickly got the ball poked away by senior forward Vince Williams, who was subsequently fouled. Williams drained his two free throws, effectively ending the game and allowing VCU to escape with an opening night home victory.

The game saw the Rams jump out to a double digit lead, which the Peacocks chipped away at via an 11-0 run late in the first half. The Rams took a 31-23 lead into the locker room after never trailing in the first half.

Saint Peter’s hung around for much of the game, capitalizing on offensive miscues by VCU to stay consistently within a pair of possessions. The Peacocks took their first lead of the game with 1:59 to go in the game, after a Ndefo layup made the score 54-53 in favor of the road team. The Peacocks would not score for the rest of the game, while a Ward layup with 25 seconds to play gave VCU the lead back.

Here are three quick takeaways from VCU’s victory:

Hason Ward was the player of the night

Ward stuffed the stat sheet in this one, leading the team in points (14), rebounds (nine) and blocks (four, all in the first half). Ward shot 75% from the floor and 50% from the charity stripe on Tuesday night.

Ward’s huge defensive night, including the late steal that helped seal the win for the Rams, makes the case for why he was included on the Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Defensive Team. Ward rated highly in defensive metrics last season, and arguably is the second-best defensive player in the conference entering the season behind St. Bonaventure star Osun Osunniyi.

Jayden Nunn dazzles in first collegiate game

Freshman guard Jayden Nunn started on Tuesday night, becoming just the third true freshman to start on opening night for VCU since 2009.

In 24 minutes of time on the floor, Nunn tallied nine points and a team-high four steals. A system like the one head coach Mike Rhoades uses relies on a strong defensive guard, and Nunn quickly showed how he fits well into this system. Nunn also had a +12 plus/minus, by far the best on the team.

While Nunn’s six turnovers and lack of assists are concerning early, it is important to remember that this was his first official collegiate game. The Flint, Michigan native passed with flying colors and has certainly earned starter minutes through the non-conference slate at least while Ace Baldwin heals from a ruptured Achilles.

Curry steps up

The only other Ram to hit double figures was senior guard KeShawn Curry, who tallied 12 points on 3-for-9 shooting.

Throughout the night, Curry attacked the rim often, including on some vicious dunk attempts and on his signature move, the reverse layup. Curry continued to play the aggressive style he has become known for with the program and showed he is willing to step up as one of the experienced leaders on this team.

The game also showed how Curry can possibly shoulder some of the scoring load. Senior forward Vince Williams, who is expected to be the Rams’ best scorer, had an off night from deep and overall offensively. Williams, who did lead the team in assists with four, did not crack double figures in scoring.

Additionally, Ward and Curry showed a great connection, connecting on multiple alley-oop plays throughout the night. That connection could only improve as the team works through non-conference play.

Up next: Wagner

Moving forward, the Rams have two glaring negatives to address from Tuesday night.

First, the team shot just 2-for-14 from deep, uncharacteristic of the Rhoades’ offense. Freshman Jimmy Nichols Jr. and Williams each made one 3-pointer.

Second, the Rams committed 19 turnovers, including some that allowed Saint Peter’s to remain in contention late. The Peacocks’ 11-0 run in the first half was partially fueled by Ram turnovers, which sometimes were self-inflicted.

However, this is the box score for the first night of a four-month campaign, so it is not ideal to dwell on the negatives before trends develop.

The Rams will look to improve to 2-0 on Saturday as the Rams host the Wagner Seahawks from the Northeast Conference. The Seahawks will enter the contest 1-0 after defeating Hartford at home on Tuesday night.

Wagner-VCU will tip off at 7 p.m. on Nov. 13 from the Siegel Center in the first-ever meeting of the two programs.