Richmond Times-Dispatch

VCU wants flow in offense

Rams will look to boost assist rate against Colonials

- BYWAYNE EPPS JR.

After Saturday’s loss to Rhode Island, KeShawn Curry and BonesHylan­d expressed the importance of VCU sticking to its offensive form.

Hyland said he felt the team wasn’t locked into its game plan. Aggressive­ness faded after halftime.

“Got to stay locked in,” Curry said. “Got to stay locked in on what we practice.”

VCU shot just 9 of 27 from the field in the second half. Hyland shouldered the brunt of the production. He went 7 of 14, scoring 21 of his gamehigh 24 points. The 10 other players who touched the floor in the half went 2 of 13. Curry was the only other Ram who made a field goal — he was 2 of 2.

It’s natural that a scorer like Hyland would head VCU’s offensive efforts. But it seems the Rams are at their best when there’s greater movement and sharing on offense.

They assisted on just nine of their 21 baskets Saturday, an assist rate (42.9%) almost 10 percentage points less than their season average.

Coach Mike Rhoades said they held the ball too much on possession­s, rather than distributi­ng it to find better opportunit­ies. It’s one thing they’ll try to improve in Wednesday’s 2 p.m. visit to George Washington (3-7, 2-10 Atlantic 10). The game will be carried by NBC Sports Washington.

“More paint touches, more ball movement,” Rhoades said. “Trust what we do.”

VCU (9-3, 2-1) finished with al field goal percentage of 38.9 Saturday, its secondlowe­st this season. Curry was

the only other VCU player who joined Hyland in double figures with 11 points.

Rhoades said Monday he feels his team’s offensive numbers have dipped recently because of decision-making and poor shot selection. VCUhas excelled in those areas at other times this season.

But the Rams have seen a downturn recently in their assist rate. In nine nonconfere­nce games, VCU had an assist rate of at least 50% in all but two contests — with an average of 55.8%.

But though the team began A-10 competitio­n 2-0 to extend its win streak to seven, it hasn’t touched a 50% assist rate in conference play. The Rams have a three-game average of 39.9% in the category. Their season average is 52.2%, 157th nationally, per KenPom.com. The national average is 52%.

“We’re going to continue to address it,” Rhoades said of the offensive execution. “One thing I feel since we’ve started with this group is they’re open to it. ‘What do we got to do, what do we got to do?’ So, everybody goes through it.”

VCU also would like to see better finishing across its frontcourt in the wake of Saturday’s loss.

Sophomore Hason Ward went 3 of 4 from the field for 8 points, but VCU finished with a season-low-tying 26 points in the paint. Rhoades said the Rams have to work inside-outside more.

“Playing off the paint. Driving it and kicking it, and getting a second and third drive,” he said. “Throwing in there for a one-on-one scoring opportunit­y. Dropping it off for the big guys to score and draw fouls.”

Rhoades felt VCU’s offensive struggles affectedho­wit approached things on defense Saturday, its usual flame there dimmed.

The Colonials on Wednesday will throw the league’s leading scoring duo at the Rams’ defense. Sophomore James Bishop, a transfer from LSU, is averaging 19.7 points, second in the A-10. Sophomore Jamison Battle is averaging 18.3 points, fourth in the league.

GWis coming off a pause due to a positive COVID-19 test with a staff member. The school announced the pause Friday, and its game against St. Bonaventur­e was postponed Saturday.

The Colonials’ game last Wednesday against Massachuse­tts was also postponed in the aftermath of the Capitol riot and 6 p.m. curfew in Washington. They haven’t played since Jan. 3.

“They’re a team trying to find their identity, but it’s led by those two guys,” Rhoades said, speaking on Bishop and Battle. “So it’s sort of a two-headed snake.”

As far as his team is concerned, Rhoades said the Rams must “get back to being us” — being the aggressors.

“This team can get a lot better,” Rhoades said. “And that second half offensivel­y against Rhode Island was not good enough.”

Note: Rhoades said junior Brendan Medley-Bacon is not yet out of VCU’s COVID-19 protocol, and will not be available Wednesday. Medley-Bacon was not with the team for a bit as he welcomed a baby daughter early this month. Back in Richmond, he entered the COVID-19 protocol last week, before rejoining the team. He’s expected to be ready to go by this weekend.

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