It’s been a long time since the Rhode Island Rams have suffered a loss. They’re riding a 13-game winning streak and are breezing through the Atlantic 10. The last time they walked off the court on the losing end of the stick, it was Dec. 6 in a road game at Alabama.
So when they enter the Siegel Center Friday night to take on the VCU Rams, they’ll be drenched in confidence with their heads held high.
But VCU (14-8, 6-3 Atlantic 10) is winners of three straight and appear to be improving as the season rolls on. The team camaraderie is continually growing and the younger players are finding their niche on the court.
Rhode Island (18-3, 10-0 A-10) hasn’t lost an in-conference game since Feb. 15 of last year against Fordham, making it 18 straight against A-10 opponents.
VCU coach Mike Rhoades is well aware of the challenge that lies ahead, but he knows what a home win over Rhode Island would do for his team’s confidence.
“When you’re in league play you’ve got to win your next game, no matter what you did the last game,” said Rhoades. “That’s always going to be our approach, but then when you’re playing the No. 1 team in the league and you have them on your floor, that’s an advantage. So you’ve got to take care of that advantage.
“We need to win, and if you’re not excited to play this one you shouldn’t be putting the uniform on. Our guys will be excited to play. It’ll be great to win the next one and win a big home game on a Friday night, it would be awesome.”
Rhode Island, ranked 22nd in the AP top 25, is an experienced, senior-laden squad which features four players averaging double figures in scoring, led by guards Jared Terrell and E.C. Matthews. It’s a roster VCU is very familiar with, as it dropped the A-10 championship to Rhode Island the last time the two teams hooked up.
“They have an edge to them,” Rhoades said. “They have upperclassmen, who are very, very talented, big and strong, and have been through all these battles before. They play real physical and tough, we have to match that. We’ve got to bring a lot of juice to this game, a lot of energy.”
Rhoades has praised the constant growth he’s seen from his team this season. He feels there has been continued improvement in the mental toughness category, which has led to weekly progression. After a rocky 5-5 start, VCU has won nine of 12 games.
There were a few injuries that prevented VCU from gaining consistency early in the season, which caused Rhoades to experiment with several lineups. But he’s begun to find a comfort zone with his rotation, most notably with the starting five, which includes recently inserted freshman forward Sean Mobley.
“We’re a little more solidified on our rotations,” Rhoades said. “The one thing that we have to our advantage, we can play big when we want to play big, we can play small when we need to play small. I think our freshman big guys have done a great job of giving us great minutes and holding down the fort around the rim.”
Rhoades says the “bench army,” as he termed it, has gained a ton of experience due to being thrown in the fire early in the season, which he believes will serve the team well as the home stretch approaches.
VCU’s depth has played a role in its recent success, with Khris Lane having two straight games of productive play off the bench. He had a 25-point, 12-rebound outing in the latest victory over George Mason.
It’ll take a full team effort on Friday. VCU’s depth, combined with its top scorers, Justin Tillman, De’Riante Jenkins and Jonathan Williams, will have to bring their A games in order to hand Rhode Island its first loss in nearly two months.
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