It was a hostile environment, as always, at the Siegel Center Friday night when Rhode Island and VCU tipped off. There was an extra sense of energy in the building as fans were well aware of Rhode Island’s recent success.
But led by its cast of seniors, Rhode Island (19-3, 11-0 Atlantic 10) maintained its composure and was never rattled. The Atlantic 10 leaders captured an 81-68 victory, securing the 14th consecutive win for Dan Hurley’s bunch. He felt experience played a colossal role in why the team was able to respond so well to the raucous atmosphere.
“This is one of the hardest places you’ll play throughout your season,” Hurley said. “[But] we out-seniored them, out-experienced them.
“Just playing in environments night in and night out, kind of like this, whether it’s home or away, I think has just allowed our guys to relax more and in the past that wasn’t always the case.”
Rhode Island was led by its senior guards, E.C. Matthews and Jared Terrell, who combined for 34 points on the night. They did a tremendous job protecting the ball, committing only nine turnovers as a team against VCU’s pressure defense, and took advantage of mismatches throughout the night by penetrating and creating for others.
As a senior, Matthews realizes that each time he takes the court he’s a step closer to playing his last game in a Rhode Island uniform. So he’s doing his best to enjoy every moment of it.
“It’s fun, it’s my last ride with this guy on my left (referring to Hurley) and my teammates,” Matthews said. “It’s fun and we don’t want it to end; we’re trying to win as many games as we can.”
VCU stayed within striking distance, but Rhode Island just proved to be too mature to surrender its lead. It was a complete domination on the boards, 47-31, as Rhode Island imposed its will on VCU inside.
Sophomore forward Cyril Langevine had one of his better performances of the season, finishing with a double-double of 12 points and 18 boards. He grabbed nearly everything that came off the rim, and was the only player to have double-digit rebounds in the game. VCU’s Justin Tillman, who averages just under 10 rebounds, was held to only six on the night.
When asked why he was able to be so productive on the glass, Langevine had a simple response: “That’s what I do,” which led to a unison of laughter throughout the media room.
Tillman led all scorers with 22 points. VCU also got 15 from Sean Mobley — all of which came in the first half. Mobley went 4-of-4 from downtown and provided a much-needed offensive spark.
But VCU’s second-leading scorer, De’Riante Jenkins, had just nine points. His productivity on offense has been key to the team’s success this season. VCU is 10-1 in games where he scores 13-plus, compared to only 4-8 when he doesn’t
“When you get trapped or other teams are denying you and all that stuff, you’ve got to find other ways to play,” said VCU coach Mike Rhoades, referring to Jenkins. “We run a lot of stuff through DJ, and want to get his hands on the ball all the time because he’s a very good player.”
Rhoades is encouraged by his team’s effort against a good Rhode Island squad, but knows that there are areas where they must improve. VCU has lost a handful of games that they were a few plays away from winning.
“We’ve got to do a little bit more, got to be a little bit tougher, got to execute a little bit better, got to hit guys when the shot goes up,” Rhoades said. “Little things like that, now you add up, and that’s the difference between winning and losing.”
The next opponent for VCU will be Richmond, who came into the Siegel Center and got a win in the first meeting. The Spiders are winners of five straight entering their game against George Mason on Saturday. As for the Rhode Island Rams, they’ll get a week off before putting their winning streak back on the line against Davidson on Feb. 9.
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