– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
FAIRFAX, Va. — Soon after the latest win by the VCU men’s basketball team, one that clinched a regular-season conference championship, the official Twitter page of the team immediately reminded all of its followers that the squad was picked to finished seventh in the preseason Atlantic 10 poll. It probably is safe to say that all people associated with the VCU Rams are relishing and gloating in similar fashion, knowing that every other team in the league will officially be looking up at one of the hottest teams in the country as the regular season ends this weekend.
The Rams used a balanced attack on offense and a historically-staunch defensive effort in defeating George Mason 71-36 on the road on Tuesday night, clinching the program’s first-ever outright Atlantic 10 Conference championship.
In the process of earning some hardware tonight, VCU set the program record for the fewest points allowed in a game, holding the Patriots to just 12 made field goals in the contest. There definitely was a cause for celebration afterward, which the Rams took advantage of.
“I wanted to make sure the guys celebrated it, because they deserved to,” said VCU head coach Mike Rhoades. “They earned it. And it was fun. There was a some water bottles. I brought the water in. They weren’t ready for that. But then they found some Gatorade.”
For almost the entirety of the first half, both offenses were all wet as the Rams and Patriots struggled mightily on offense. VCU (24-6, 15-2 Atlantic 10) was the worse for wear in the first 15 minutes, scoring just nine points and finding itself down 16-9 before a layup by Issac Vann with 4:37 remaining in the half sparked a 19-5 run.
Marcus Williams punctuated the half-ending run with a three-pointer with eight seconds left to give VCU a 28-21 lead at the intermission.
The second half was a complete turnaround for the Rams’ offense, as it shot 54 percent from the field (20-of-37) while holding the Patriots to 5-of-27 shooting. VCU also forced 10 second-half turnovers as its depth — 10 players played at least 12 minutes in the game — wore down George Mason.
“I think our energy was different [in the second half],” said Evans, who led the Rams with 13 points. “I think in the first half, we came out a little hesitant. We weren’t aggressive on offense.”
VCU’s last outright regular-season conference championship came in 2009, back when it was a member of the Colonial Athletic Association. The Rams shared the 2015-16 Atlantic 10 regular-season championship with St. Bonaventure and Dayton.
Guard Jordan Miller led the Patriots (16-14, 10-7) with 11 points and 10 rebounds as George Mason has now lost four of its last five games.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Tuesday evening’s game, with all photos taken by DC-Area photographer Yusuf Abdullah. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 18 pictures in total.