VCU puts up valiant effort in falling to Texas
Richmond, Va. – The Frank Irwin Center, where the Texas Longhorns play basketball, holds 16,734 fans well more than double the capacity of VCU’s Siegel Center.
But this year’s Longhorns learned what their coach already knew: the Siegel Center remains one of the loudest and most intimidating home court advantages in college basketball.
Mohamed Bamba had 13 points and 13 rebounds, including a SportsCenter Top 10 tomahawk dunk in the first half and Andrew Jones added 19 more as the Longhorns built a 19 point second half lead, only to see VCU go on a 25-5 run to take the lead on a Khris Lane 3 with just under 4 minutes to play. The Longhorns (6-2) then used a 9-4 run to close out a 71-67 win.
"For VCU to come back and go on whatever run they went on, says a lot about their team" said UT and former VCU coach Shaka Smart, who earned his 200th career win at the place where he won his first 163. "Our guys really hung in there and made some big plays down the stretch."
Smart and the Longhorns were fulfilling a clause in his former contract at VCU that stipulated he bring his new team back and play them once in Austin. Nearly every VCU fan in the building gave Smart a standing ovation when he walked onto the court just before tipoff in tribute to the work he did here for 6 years in advancing the program.
"I'm appreciative of Mike [Rhoades] for recommending that people be nice" Smart joked about the reception he received. "Every once in a while [during the game] you take a deep breath and say 'Man, this is a special place'".
"I'm really, really proud of our guys, awesome effort" said VCU head coach Mike Rhoades of his team's near upset. "We've got to find a way to execute late in these games and pull these close ones out."
Justin Tillman had 22 points and 10 rebounds for VCU (5-4) while Khris Lane added 15 more, including the 3 pointer that gave the Rams a 63-62 lead with 3:52 to play and nearly blew the roof off the building.
"This felt like it was Senior Night almost" said Lane. "I know how much this meant to the city and the school and I could feel the emotion from the crowd."
Coaches and players will not often speak of moral victories, but there was pride in the VCU post game comments about rising up after being down so far in the second half.
"We made that [second half] run with our bench players in there" Lane said. "It doesn't matter who's on the floor. If we're all playing together and playing hard, we can play well."
"That's what happens when VCU let's it go" Rhoades added. "We have to do that more often. The effort was awesome. The scrap was awesome."
VCU shot just 35% from the field in the first half, compared to 52% for the Longhorns who opened the game on a 14-2 run and led by 8 at the half. VCU outrebounded Texas 38-33 and each team committed 12 turnovers.
The game will be remembered as much for it's competitiveness as it will be for it's reunion quality. Smart built many relationships in his 6 years in Richmond, including one with his current successor who credits Smart with bringing him to VCU in the first place as an assistant back in 2009.
"I'm not here if it wasn't for Coach Smart" Rhoades said. "It was great to see him. He's a great friend."
"I want to give Coach Rhoades a ton of credit for the way they battled and fought" Smart said. "He's doing a phenomenal job and the future is extremely bright here."