All good things must come to an end. For the VCU Rams men’s basketball team, that means the end of a seven-game winning streak that, partially thanks to a three-week COVID pause, had lasted since a Nov. 26 loss to #22 Connecticut.
In a rematch of last year’s Atlantic 10 conference title game, the Rams traveled to Olean, New York to take on the St. Bonaventure Bonnies. The Bonnies won the last time the teams met, in a 74-65 victory that clinched an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for the Bonnies. Both teams were the A-10’s only representatives in the NCAA Tournament last spring, and both were eliminated in the Round of 64 (St. Bonaventure via a loss to LSU, VCU via withdrawal due to COVID-19 issues).
History ultimately repeated itself on Friday night, as the Bonnies (10-3, 2-0 A-10) handed the Rams (10-5, 3-1 A-10) their first loss in A-10 play while cementing themselves as a top-two team in the conference. The Bonnies entered the locker room at the half with a six-point lead before outscoring the Rams 39-25 the rest of the way, winning 73-53.
As typical for a Mark Schmidt-led team, the Bonnies ran a tight, seven-man rotation. Guard Jalen Adaway led all scorers with 25 points, while Jaren Holmes and Kyle Lofton each scored in double figures. Reigning A-10 conference tournament MVP Osun Osunniyi put up nine points and seven rebounds while nursing an apparent injury suffered late in the first half. Osunniyi missed minimal time due to the injury, suffered after a hard fall under the basket in the first half, and appeared to not miss a step upon returning to the game.
The Rams saw two players crack double figures: senior forward Vince Williams tallied 12 points on 80% shooting from the floor, while junior guard Marcus Tsohonis led the team with 14 points. A transfer from Washington, Tsohonis has recently found his shot, exploding for 4-for-8 shooting from deep on Friday night.
What ultimately doomed VCU was its offense, which saw old problems re-emerge after the return of star point guard Ace Baldwin saw an uptick in production on that end of the floor. The Rams shot 38.5% from the floor and lost the turnover battle, 13-11. Baldwin and freshman guard Jayden Nunn, who typically set the tempo for the offense, combined to shoot 3-for-17 on the night, including 1-for-6 from deep.
Like in the Dayton game, the Rams also saw a massive discrepancy in free throw opportunities. The Bonnies went to the line 27 times, while VCU went to the line eight times. Once tallied, the free throw discrepancy led to a +17 advantage for the Bonnies. Ultimately, three VCU players ended the game with four personal fouls, while Baldwin had three of his own.
Between the foul troubles, clock management issues and woes on the offensive end, head coach Mike Rhoades and the Rams will have a lot to review entering a challenging week of A-10 basketball.
Top Story: Wildcats come calling
The schedule gets no easier for VCU in the immediate future. Up next for the Rams is a home game against the best team in the conference: the Davidson Wildcats (14-2, 4-0 A-10).
Led by legendary head coach Bob McKillop, the Wildcats have quickly emerged as the odds-on favorite to take the A-10’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament this year.
In virtually every ranking metric, Davidson leads A-10 member schools. As of Jan. 15, the Wildcats are 36th in the NET rankings and 44th in KenPom ratings, leading the conference in both metrics. For what it’s worth, the Wildcats are also #1 in the A10Talk.com Power Rankings and are likely to hold that spot in next week’s poll.
Davidson will arrive at the Siegel Center on Tuesday coming off one of the most exciting A-10 games of the season so far: a nailbiter of a win against the Richmond Spiders at the Robins Center. The 87-84 win pushed Davidson’s winning streak up to 13 games, the longest in Division I basketball.
Late game heroics were the story for Davidson on Friday, as redshirt junior Michael Jones scored the final of his career-high 29 points on a go-ahead 3-pointer with three seconds remaining in the game. Jones shot 9-for-12 from the floor on the night.
Other key players to watch out for include junior guard Hyunjung Lee. One of the best sharpshooters in the conference, Lee has torched VCU before, hanging 20 points on the Rams as a freshman on Feb. 7, 2020. Despite Lee’s performance, VCU won that game by 11 points.
One of the conference’s most exciting newcomers is junior guard Foster Loyer, who has quickly proven to be one of the most dangerous threats in the Davidson offense. A Michigan State transfer, Loyer is averaging 16 points per game and has scored in double figures in all but two of Davidson’s games. Loyer is also good for 3.5 assists per game on average.
Senior forward Luka Brajkovic will likely face the brunt of VCU’s interior defense. At 6-10, he holds a height advantage over the entire Rams roster and is good for double figure scoring night in and night out. One weakness in Brajkovic’s game is his rebounding; at 6-10, the Austrian averages 5.9 rebounds per game on his career. However, he has improved in that area this season and is averaging over seven rebounds per night thus far.
Like in the game in Olean, Tuesday night’s game is another example of iron sharpening iron: VCU’s top-five defense against a rolling Davidson team with an offense that ranks among the country’s best.
The game is a makeup of the previously scheduled Jan. 2 matchup between the two teams, which was postponed due to issues related to COVID-19.
A check-in on Bones and Mo
VCU’s two active professional athletes in the “Big 4” major sports leagues have both gotten a healthy dose of good news this week.
Indianapolis Colts tight end Mo Alie-Cox (’17) is not playing in this weekend’s NFL playoff games, an outcome that seemed unlikely two weeks ago when the Colts had a >90% chance of making the playoffs.
However, Alie-Cox reportedly still has a reason to celebrate.
According to reports, Colts general manager Chris Ballard has stated that re-signing Alie-Cox is a “priority” for the upcoming offseason.
#Colts GM Chris Ballard said re-signing Mo Alie-Cox will be a priority for them this offseason. They want Big Mo back.
— Locked On Colts Podcast (@LockedOnColts) January 13, 2022
Alie-Cox enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent after completing his one year, $3.38 million deal. He has spent his entire four-year NFL career with the Colts, where he has steadily seen an increase in involvement in the offense.
In 2021, Alie-Cox set a new career high in touchdowns (4), but saw a slight dip in receptions (24) and receiving yards (316) from 2020. In his career, Alie-Cox has tallied 70 receptions for 936 yards and eight touchdowns.
Mo Alie-Cox is the only VCU graduate to ever appear in an NFL game. VCU has never had a football program and sells T-shirts at the campus bookstore proudly claiming to be “undefeated since 1838,” when the Medical Department of Hampden-Sydney College (now VCU’s medical college) was founded in Richmond.
On the hardwood, rookie guard Bones Hyland (’21) looks to be breaking out of a recent rookie season slump as he plays in the Denver Nuggets’ bench unit. In a nationally-televised game on TNT Thursday night, Hyland scored 17 points on 6-for-12 shooting in 23 minutes off the bench.
Hyland did make one mistake at the end of the game. With about a minute to go, Hyland recorded his sixth and disqualifying foul, which forced the Nuggets to bring veteran guard Austin Rivers in to finish mopping up the 140-108 Nuggets victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Ultimately, the mistake was a minor blemish on a gem of a night for Hyland, who has quickly endeared himself to Nuggets fans for many of the same reasons VCU fans loved him for the two years he played at the Siegel Center. Hyland plays the game with an infectious joy while displaying incredible shooting range.
Hyland, the only active NBA player to attend VCU, will look to continue his solid rookie campaign against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night.
Henderson scores against GW
In the fading minutes of VCU’s dominating win against George Washington on Jan. 11, junior guard Arnold Henderson VI checked into the game.
For VCU fans, the moment was huge: it was the first game action the Mechanicsville, Virginia native had seen so far in 2021-22.
Like most schools, VCU fans have a special affinity for their walk-ons and will openly root for them to check into the game when the outcome is out of hand. In recent years, walk-ons Torey Burston and Dylan Sheehy-Guiseppi have been fan favorites.
Make no mistake though: despite playing minimal minutes, VCU’s walk-ons can play.
In his two seasons at VCU, Sheehy-Guiseppi appeared in 11 total games. As a freshman, the Michigan native grabbed a steal after blowing up a pass across the timing line in a blowout road loss to George Washington. Mostly, Sheehy-Guiseppi made his impact as a passer, dishing out four career assists, including three his freshman season. Although he never scored a point at VCU, Sheehy-Guiseppi was a fan favorite and had great court vision in his limited playing opportunity.
Sheehy-Guiseppi transferred to Bethel College (Indiana), a NAIA member school, after the 2018-19 season.
Burston became a program institution during his four years on Broad Street. A Richmond native, Burston grew up a VCU fan and was a star football player in high school. Asked to walk on by then-assistant coach Mike Rhoades, Burston joined the Rams midway through the 2012-13 season.
Burston saw significant action, appearing in 60 total games between the 2013-14 season and the 2016-17 season. For his career, Burston shot 4-for-30 from the floor but made an impact on the glass, securing 20 total rebounds and dishing out 16 total assists. Burston also logged eight steals as a Ram.
Before the 2016-17 season, in recognition of his impact on the program, then-head coach Will Wade awarded Burston a scholarship for his senior season.
When you search Burston’s name on Google, one of the first results is a 2015 article on his only career 3-pointer, a garbage time shot against Saint Louis that pushed the VCU lead to 21. The reaction from his teammates is still worth a watch.
And Henderson, who worked as a ball boy for the Rams as a kid, is a dangerous shooter when given the opportunity.
A graduate of St. Christopher’s School, Henderson was names All-Prep League as a senior and knocked down 34 3-pointers on the season while averaging double figures. In his first career collegiate game, against Jacksonville State in 2019, Henderson showed off his range by draining his first 3-point attempt. Later that season, while mopping up a Leap Day home victory against George Washington, Henderson made a pair of buckets.
On Jan. 11, Henderson was given the opportunity to score on the Rams’ last possession, which he capitalized on by slashing to the basket for a layup attempt. The George Washington defender got his hand on the ball, but goaltending was called on the play, giving Henderson a made basket on the night. The basket was his first made attempt since the Feb. 29, 2020 win against the Colonials.
For his career, Henderson has scored nine points on 4-for-10 shooting. Henderson has grabbed two defensive rebounds and dished out one assist in his 13 career appearances.
How does VCU measure up?
Here is where VCU ranks in several key metrics as of Jan. 15:
- NET rankings: 64th, down 14 spots. (2nd in A-10, trailing Davidson)
- KenPom rating: 72nd (3rd in A-10, trailing Davidson and St. Bonaventure)
- A-10 standings: 4th, 3-1 (trailing Davidson, St. Bonaventure and Fordham)
VCU will look to get back in the win column on Tuesday night at the Siegel Center against Davidson. Tipoff is at 7 p.m., with coverage on CBS Sports Network.
Featured photo from Dan Nelligan/A10Talk