Richmond Times-Dispatch

Mountainee­rsmuscle past Rams

In battle of suffocatin­g defenses, WVU’s size makes the difference

- BYWAYNE EPPS JR.

As one could expect with a pair of programs who’ve built their identities on defense, VCU and 15th-rankedWest Virginia had some less-than desirable results on offense for much of their matchup Thursday afternoon.

In “Press Virginia” vs. “Havoc,”

Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic

VCU vs. Memphis in Sioux Falls, S. D., 9 p.m. ( TV: ESPN2)

the teams began the game a combined 0 for 19 from the field.

VCU’s young squad scrapped, like it did in its season-opening victory over Utah State Wednesday night, pressing to make

West Virginia uncomforta­ble at times. But the Rams struggled to contend with a physically imposing and experience­d Mountainee­rs lineup.

They never got into enough of an offensive flow and, despite hanging close for stretches, never led. VCU fell 78-66 to

West Virginia in the semifinals of the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The Rams (1-1) will conclude their time in the tournament

“When teams try to take us out of stuff and are real physical with us, we can’t allow that

to happen.”

with a 9 p.m. matchup against Memphis on Friday in the third-place game, which will be broadcast on ESPN2.

“I liked how we competed, I liked how we got the style of play going,” coach Mike Rhoades said. “We just couldn’t finish enough against their physicalit­y.”

Sophomore Bones Hyland led VCU with 13 points and three steals. Junior Vince Williams added 11 points, while freshman Ace Baldwin had six assists.

It was particular­ly chilly offensivel­y in the early goings. West Virginia began 0 for 10 from the field. VCU began 0 of 9.

The Mountainee­rs (2-0) still jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the first six and half minutes, with the help of the free throw line, before baskets began falling. Junior Derek Culver, at 6-7, 255 pounds, was one of those physical forced VCU struggled with. Culver had 8 of the first 13 points.

The Rams’ first field goal was the result of a goaltendin­g call on a layup attempt by Hyland at the 10:51 mark, before junior KeShawn Curry followed with a layup. That made it 17-7 at about the midpoint of the half.

VCU found a bit of a groove for a time, as its press began ruffling West Virginia.

Back-to-back baskets by sophomore Tre Clark, the second off a steal, all of a sudden had VCU within 2, 29-27, with 4:56 left before the break.

But again it was Culver who responded with a layup and free throw. He and 6-8, 260-pound sophomore Oscar Tshiebwe combined for West Virginia’s next 8 points.

With a 3-pointer by junior Sean McNeil, it was back to a double-digit advantage, and the Mountainee­rs entered halftime with a 42-33 lead.

The teams shot a combined 22 of 65 in the first half (33.8%). ButWest Virginia was 3 of 8 from deep and VCU was 1 of 10.

VCU showed brighter signs on offense in the second half, with layups from seniors Corey Douglas and Levi Stockard III and a 3 from Baldwin, cutting the deficit to 3.

But more WVU 3s helped stave the Rams off. McNeil hit a pair and senior Taz Sherman another. The second by McNeil pushed West Virginia’s lead to 54-42 at 13:11.

Their lead never dipped back below 9 the rest of the way.

VCU was outrebound­ed 49-34. Culver finished with 23 points and 15 rebounds, and Tshiebwe 11 points and 16 rebounds.

The Rams forced 21 turnovers — one of the positives Rhoades gleaned. But not enough of other defensive possession­s finished with a rebound, he said. West Virginia led the country in offensive rebounding percentage last season and had 23 offensive boards Thursday.

But Rhoades said his team has to execute on offense better, and do a better job playing against physicalit­y, which in the postgame press conference he promised it would.

The Rams have to learn from Thursday, Rhoades said, and he’ll be seeking a response against Memphis Friday.

“When teams try to take us out of stuff and are real physical with us, we can’t allow that to happen,” Rhoades said.

“And that comes with experience and time. And getting in the fire like this. And today really exposed that part of it.

“And I talked to our guys about it. We could fight it or we can accept it and then get better from it.”

VCUtopples Utah State in season opener

In VCU’s season opener late Wednesday against Utah State in the Crossover Classic, the team took control with its defense down the stretch of the second half to surge ahead and beat the Aggies 85-69.

The Rams forced 10 of 18 total Utah State turnovers in the final 13:07 of the game. They scored 17 points off the Aggies 11 total second-half giveaways and erased a 10point deficit.

Hyland had a careerhigh 23 points, Williams had a career-high 15 points and Baldwin finished with seven assists.

Note: VCU has played 12 of 14 players on its roster in each of its first two games. But sophomore guard Jarren McAllister has been missing. Rhoades said McAllister has been battling injuries in both knees.

“We got to get him healthy and back into the mix and all that stuff,” Rhoades said. “Which he will be pretty soon.”

VCU coach Mike Rhoades, on

the physicalit­y of West Virginia overwhelmi­ng the Rams on Thursday

 ?? DAVE EGGEN/ INERTIA ?? VCU freshman
Ace Baldwin ( 1) drives past West Virginia defender
Jordan McCabe during the Bad BoyMowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, S. D. Baldwin recorded six assists in the Rams’ defeat.
DAVE EGGEN/ INERTIA VCU freshman Ace Baldwin ( 1) drives past West Virginia defender Jordan McCabe during the Bad BoyMowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, S. D. Baldwin recorded six assists in the Rams’ defeat.
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