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VCU ends season at tourney

Fred Jeter | 3/29/2019, 6 a.m.
In a proverbial sense, Virginia Commonwealth University’s basketball team scaled numerous mountains this season.

Tacko Falls

Tacko Falls

Coach Mike Rhoades

Coach Mike Rhoades

In a proverbial sense, Virginia Commonwealth University’s basketball team scaled numerous mountains this season.

Despite a lackluster preseason analysis, the Rams won 25 games with 12 straight victories, claimed the Atlantic 10 title and earned an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. Once at the tournament, however, “Mount Tacko” was too steep to climb.

That’s Tacko Fall, the University of Central Florida’s 7-foot-6 center from Senegal, who may be the Orlando area’s biggest draw now since the Magic Kingdom.

Led by Fall’s 13 points, 18 rebounds, five blocked shots and undeniable intimidation, UCF defeated the Rams 73-58 last Friday in the first round of the NCAA East Region games played in Columbia, S.C.

The Rams shot poorly — 31 percent — for a reason. It’s hard finding the nets with a mobile, long-stemmed “mountain” between the person with the ball and the basket. It was a deflating final chapter to what had been a season-long celebration for the black and gold Rams.  

Under second year Coach Mike Rhoades, VCU bounced back from its worst season this century (18-15 in 2017-18) to win the A-10 season crown after being picked a humbling seventh in preseason.

Coach Rhoades was named A-10 Coach of the Year and junior guard Marcus Evans was selected to the All-A-10.

The Rams scored non-conference wins over the University of Texas and Wichita State University and nearly upset the University of Virginia in a seesaw contest with 13 lead changes and six ties.         

VCU closed its regular season with a tidal wave of momentum, winning the final 12 games, many by lopsided margins.

Twist to the plot: It all turned sour with 9:41 left in first half of the A-10 Tournament quarterfinals against the University of Rhode Island. That’s when Evans tumbled to the floor with a knee injury. At the time, the heavily favored Rams were up 16-13 in the game played in Brooklyn, N.Y., at the Barclays Center. Evans didn’t return to the game and the Rams went on to lose 75-70.

Evans made a valiant effort to play in the NCAA Tournament game against UCF, but he was clearly below par with six points and six turnovers. Because of that, VCU’s final two losses will forever be remembered for a “What if?”  

VCU becomes “D”CU: Defense triggered the Rams’ huge improvement. VCU led the A-10 in these defensive categories — least points allowed, lowest field goal percentage allowed, lowest 3-point field goal percentage allowed and most turnovers caused.

Coming and going: The 2019-20 Rams will look much like the current team. The top eight scorers are set to return.

The Rams will lose only backups Michael Gilmore and Xavier Jackson. Incoming freshmen are Jarren McAllister and Tre Clark are both 6-foot-3 wings.

McAllister is a native North Carolinian who played this past season at Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock, Va., while Clark hails from Covington, Ga.

VCU also is excited about the addition of walk-on guard Arnold Henderson from St. Christopher’s School in Richmond. Henderson is the nephew of Rams legend Gerald Henderson.