Since joining the Atlantic 10 conference in 2012, VCU has a .500 or better record against every A10 team — except one.
The Rams from the University of Rhode Island have given their fellow Rams fits over the years. Entering Saturday’s game at the Siegel Center in Richmond, Virginia, Rhode Island held a 10-7 advantage in head-to-head matchups. In the last four seasons, Rhode Island is 8-1 against VCU, having eliminated VCU from the last three A10 tournaments.
The run of success for Rhode Island continued on Saturday, as a strong defensive second half saw Rhode Island defeat VCU 83-68. The loss was VCU’s first in conference play.
The story of the afternoon was turnovers and fouls. Each team committed nine turnovers in the first half, to go along with 13 fouls for each team. The game lacked rhythm throughout because of the tight foul calls by the officials, who would call 49 fouls in 40 minutes of game action.
Neither team could build a breakaway lead in the first half. The Rams and the Rams entered their respective locker rooms tied at 40 after VCU freshman Jamir Watkins hit a spin move midrange jumper at the buzzer.
The second half was a different story. VCU went on two separate scoring droughts of four or more minutes, tallying only 28 points in the half. Sophomore guard Bones Hyland scored 21 points in the second half on his way to a game-high 24. KeShawn Curry (5) and Ace Baldwin (2) were the only other VCU players that scored in the second half.
Leading the charge for Rhode Island was senior guard Jeremy Sheppard, who scored a career-high 20 points. Sheppard, a graduate of John Marshall High School in Richmond, previously played for Eastern Carolina and College of Central Florida in a lengthy college career.
Leading Rhode Island in scoring was its star point guard, Fatts Russell. Russell started out cold, going over 13 minutes before scoring for the first time. Russell made up for lost time as the game wound down, scoring 23 total points and falling one rebound short of a double-double. The senior guard tallied zero assists for the first time this season and the third time in the last three seasons (all against VCU).
Rhode Island took a 15-point lead after Russell nailed a 3-pointer from the logo with seven minutes left. Russell shot 50% (2-4) from deep Saturday.
Both teams had trouble keeping control of the ball. Rhode Island committed 19 turnovers, with VCU not far behind with 16 team turnovers. However, Rhode Island scored 21 points off turnovers, compared to just 12 from VCU.
The win was huge for Rhode Island, who needed a signature win to help its March Madness chances. Ranked 92nd in the NCAA NET rankings, Rhode Island now has a road win against an in-conference opponent who entered the day in the top 30 in the NET. Russell again played like one of the best guards in the conference with another stellar performance.
For VCU, the loss snaps a winning streak that dates back to early December and blemishes their perfect conference record. While not a killer, the collapse in the second half is notable for how it mirrors other games earlier in the season. VCU almost blew a lead against James Madison in a similar fashion to close the non-conference schedule. VCU would win that game by one point.
Rhode Island improves to 3-2 in the conference with the win, 6-6 overall. The Rams’ next game is scheduled for Jan. 13 against Massachusetts.
VCU falls to 2-1 in the conference, 9-3 overall. The next scheduled game for VCU is a road game against George Washington on Jan. 13. However, the Colonials went on pause on Friday due to COVID-19 protocols after a team staff member tested positive. George Washington’s game Saturday against St. Bonaventure was postponed. The game against VCU was moved up from 6 p.m. to 2 p.m. due to a curfew in the Washington D.C. area.
*Featured image via gorhody.com/Rhode Island Athletics*