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Wednesday’s Things to Know: Buckeye guards star, Marquette comes back and LSU loses to VCU

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There were top-25 teams in action, the Gavitt Games rolled on and there was something of an awkward homecoming in Richmond.

Here are the most important things you need to know from the action around the country Wednesday.

Ohio State’s guards can elevate the Buckeyes

When we talk about Ohio State, we inevitably start with the Buckeyes’ frontcourt. And with good reason. Kaleb Wesson is a hulking 6-foot-9, 270-pound throwback double-double machine. He’s the type of player we just don’t see as often anymore up front, and as such, few teams have a true counter for him.

What we saw Wednesday in the Buckeyes’ 76-51 dismantling of Villanova, though, was that Chris Holtmann’s guards might hold the key to success in Columbus this season. If nothing else, they certainly opened a lot of eyes against the Wildcats.

Duane Washington Jr (14), Luther Muhammad (11), D.J. Carter (11) and CJ Walker (10) all scored in double-figures while Walker had seven assists, Washington had five rebounds and Carton had five rebounds and five assists. That’s on top of Wesson doing Wesson things like recording 10 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and three assists.

If the Buckeyes’ guards can give them this kind of production, it’s really not much of a leap to consider this team a serious threat to Michigan State in the Big Ten, and maybe even a bigger contender nationally than we’ve given them credit for this preseason. The team that took apart Villanova on Wednesday night looked like a team that could make it to Atlanta in April. It was that complete a performance.

It’s easy to draw a line from this Ohio State performance against Villanova to Michigan’s last year against Jay Wright’s team, which took a 27-point L to John Beilein last November. The ‘Cats ultimately bounced back and found their stride, but that lopsided result probably said more about how good that Wolverines team was as they eventually went on to secure a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament.

Can the Buckeyes replicate that path? That question is probably best answered with another – can their guards replicate the night they had against Villanova?

Marquette erases 18-point deficit to beat Purdue

Marquette is one of the country’s biggest question marks. There were a few fleeting moments last spring when they looked like a national title contender when Markus Howard decided to return to school, but the Golden Eagles were flung into the “mystery” category after the Hauser brothers decided to bolt, leaving Marquette with an interesting albeit uncertain roster.

Steve Wojciechowski’s team looked like it answered some questions Wednesday, coming from 18 behind to defeat Purdue, 65-55, in Milwaukee.

Howard was his dynamic self with 18 points, four rebounds and three assists on 6 of 12 shooting, but it was the play of Kobe McEwen that is perhaps the most promising. The Utah State transfer went for 23 points, five rebounds, four assists and a steal to help Marquette claw back and win the game.

Marquette needs McEwen to be that productive this season as an offensive second option as defenses do everything they can to try to bottle up Howard. If McEwen can not only be a viable No. 2 but make teams truly pay for throwing the kitchen sink at Howard defensively, Marquette can be closer to that upper-echelon Big East team we thought they might be last spring rather than the enigma they became this summer.

Purdue, meanwhile, saw its offense implode, shooting 33.9 percent from the floor and 25 percent from 3-point range. Given the departures from last year’s team, offense is understandably a work in progress, though that progression looked stalled in a second half in which Matt Painter’s team scored just 17 points – while buckling defensively, giving up 40 to Marquette.

Will Wade loses to his former school

As a program that sends many of its coaches on to bigger stages and brighter lights, VCU has figured out quite a few ways to make their status as a stepping stone to their advantage. First off, it’s an attractive job for talented coaches because of the track record. A smaller, but interesting, way the Rams have maneuvered is to work into the coaches’ contract that if they leave for another gig, they have to bring that team back to Richmond.

That’s why LSU and Will Wade were in town Wednesday, taking a 84-82 loss. If they hadn’t, Wade would have owed VCU $250,000.

That bit of info turned out to be at least a little funny, given that a few VCU students dressed up as FBI agents as an allusion to reports that Wade was caught on a wiretap discussing a “strong-ass offer” to a recruit as part of the federal government’s investigation into corruption into college basketball.

Here’s guessing Wade and LSU get plenty of this treatment throughout the season, though it’s probably worth noting the Tigers made it to the Sweet 16 last year amid the controversy and Wade hasn’t missed a beat on the recruiting trail – they inked five-star Trendon Watford last May – so whatever lingering controversy there may be probably isn’t going to be too bothersome to them.

Santos-Silva leads VCU past No. 23 LSU, 84-82, in Wade’s return

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RICHMOND, Va. — Marcus Santos-Silva had 17 points and 11 rebounds and VCU turned 26 turnovers by No. 23 LSU into 37 points in an 84-82 victory Wednesday night.

The Rams (3-0), whose contract with former coach Will Wade mandated he bring his new team to the Siegel Center or have his school pay $250,000, improved to 5-2 against ranked opponents on their home court.

VCU withstood a rally that saw the Tigers take their first lead of the half on two free throws by Skylar Mays with 41 second left.

The Tigers (1-1) had a chance after Santos-Silva made one of two free throws with 4.9 seconds left, but Mays raced up court and lost control of the ball.

De’Riante Jenkins and Marcus Evans added 15 points each for VCU, which was outscored 46-30 in the paint.

Mays led the Tigers with 23 points, but also had seven turnovers. Javinte Smart added 15 points and Trendon Watford scored 11.

The Rams led for most of the game, but a 15-2 run by the Tigers — despite a stretch of five turnovers in six possessions — tied the game at 67-all with 8:56 to go.

The Rams responded with an 11-4 run started by Santos-Silva to lead 78-71 with 3:22 to play before the Tigers rallied again, scoring 11 of the next 14 points and taking their first lead since the early going on a pair of free throws by Mays with 41 seconds remaining.

Jenkins, fouled on a 3-point try, made two of three free throws, and the Tigers missed their final three field-goal tries.

BIG PICTURE

LSU: Wade said he was concerned about how much the Tigers turned the ball over in their opener against Bowling Green, surely with an eye toward the “havoc” style Rhoades has reintroduced at VCU. The Rams certainly made them believers, forcing 12 first-half takeaways and turning them into 24 points.

VCU: The Rams had trouble getting ball inside, but their 3-point shooting and defense bailed them out, especially during an 18-4 first-half run. In one sequence, Isaac Vann made a 3 for VCU, which then forced a turnover, leading to Evans’ 3. The Tigers then turned it over again, leading to a 3 by Vince Williams. All in 53 seconds.

UP NEXT

The Tigers should have a much easier time in their next outing, at home against Nicholls on Saturday.

The Rams continue a six-game homestand to open the season, welcoming Jacksonville State on Sunday.

Monday Overreactions: The Pac-12’s start, Texas is a contender, Florida’s overrated

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Tyrese Maxey, Kentucky

Maxey was the best player at the Champions Classic last week, scoring 26 points in the final 30 minutes as the Wildcats picked off then-No. 1 Michigan State.

I wrote about it from Madison Square Garden. Kentucky was looking for a star heading into this season. We didn’t know who their best player was going to be this year, and to be frank, we don’t know for sure if it actually is Maxey or if he just got hot at the right time in the right building.

But if Maxey can end up being something close to the guy that we all saw in the World’s Most Famous Arena on Tuesday night, it is unquestionably a difference-maker for the Wildcats. The knock on this group was that there was no clear answer about who is the go-to guy, who is going to be asked to have the ball in their hands, who is going to be capable of making plays at the end of a clock.

Well, now it seems that we have an answer.

It’s Tyrese Maxey.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Texas Longhorns

Texas went into Mackey Arena on Saturday evening and knocked off No. 23 Purdue, 70-66. There are a number reasons why this performance was impressive, from the emergence of Jericho Sims and Gerald Liddell to how well Matt Coleman played to the toughness shown by Andrew Jones in grabbing the game-sealing rebound and knocking down four straight free throws in the final minute.

But to me, what was so impressive about this win was that Texas actually looked like a competent offensive team. We knew this group was going to be able to guard. They’ve always been able to guard under Shaka Smart, and this season they added defensive mastermind Luke Yaklich to the coaching staff. No, the reason to be bullish on Texas – the reason I think that they are the second-best team in the Big 12 – is because they sliced and diced a good Purdue defense.

There are shooters on this roster. There are multiple playmakers on the floor at any given time. They may not have the lottery pick, but Jericho Sims can do a lot of the same things.

Watch out for the Longhorns.

MONDAY’S OVERREACTIONS

THE PAC-12 IS ACTUALLY GOOD

Last season, the Pac-12 was an utter disgrace. The league put three teams in the NCAA tournament because Oregon found a way to win the automatic bid. They got their brains beat in during non-conference play, and there wasn’t a single team from the conference that finished higher than a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament.

This year is an entirely different story.

Five days into the college basketball season, the Pac-12 is 18-1 overall, and there are some pretty good wins in the mix. Arizona smacked around Illinois. Washington beat Baylor on a neutral court. Oregon has a couple of impressive wins over Mountain West teams. Oregon State beat Iowa State. Utah beat Nevada. Hell, the only loss any team in the Pac-12 suffered came when Arizona State lost to Colorado, another Pac-12 team, in China in a non-league game.

At this point last season, the Pac-12 only had three losses to their name. But they had not won a single game against a high-major opponent had seen Washington get blown out by Auburn, Cal get blown out by Yale and USC to lose to a Vanderbilt team that went winless in the SEC.

ARIZONA IS THE BEST TEAM IN THE PAC-12

I came into the season thinking that Oregon would probably be the best team in the conference. After watching them comeback against Baylor on Friday, I thought that Washington would be the best team in the league.

But at this point, I think I’ve come around to the idea that it’s Arizona. Nico Mannion looks like he is going to be the real deal. He put 23 points and eight assists on Ayo Dosunmu and Illinois, who forced Cassius Winston into a nine-turnover game last season. Josh Green is making shots from the perimeter. Zeke Nnaji has been one of the biggest surprises of the early season.

I’m buying this Arizona team early. Get on board while you can.

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JADEN MCDANIELS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER IN THE LEAGUE

To be clear, I don’t think he’s the best player in the league. I don’t think he’s the most valuable player in the league. Hell, I don’t think that he is either of those things for his own team.

But McDaniels is the guy that is going to determine who wins the Pac-12 this season. He’s just such a weapon in this zone because of his length. Mike Hopkins has been using him at the top (in the two) of his 2-3 zone, and that created a lot of problems for Baylor shooters getting used to his 6-foot-10 frame. And then there are the things that he can do offensively, where he has so much more skill and polish than I initially thought he would.

Put another way, McDaniels was just fantastic during the comeback against Baylor. If the plays like that as opposed to playing like a 195 pound wing that hasn’t quite grown into his height, the Huskies are going to be a nightmare.

FLORIDA IS OVERRATED

I was very surprised by just how slow and small Florida looked when they took on Florida State in Gainesville on Sunday afternoon. Granted, this was a tough matchup for the Gators. The Seminoles overplay passing lanes and switch everything, and that basically dares opponents to try and beat them 1-on-1. That’s tough to deal with for anyone.

But it’s particularly problematic for a Florida team that lacks playmaking and features a point guard that is, relatively speaking, slow and unathletic. Nembhard couldn’t create off the bounce, and when he couldn’t create, Florida’s offense slowed to a crawl.

There aren’t many teams out there that can guard the way Florida State can, and the Gators were certainly not aided by the fact that their good three-point shooters spent Sunday firing up brick after brick, but I’m much more concerned about Florida’s future now than I was before Sunday.

AUBURN’S WIN SAID MORE ABOUT DAVIDSON THAN IT DID ABOUT AUBURN

I really thought Davidson was going to have a chance to win the Atlantic 10 and make a run to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. I’m not sure I believe that anymore, not after they were completely taken out of anything they want to run by Bruce Pearl and the Auburn Tigers. Davidson just could not deal with that level of athleticism. They missed roughly 800 layups  on Friday, they committed head-scratching, self-inflicted turnovers and they couldn’t keep out of foul trouble thanks to a lack of size inside.

And yet, they were a bucket away from having a chance to win this game on the road.

That’s not a good sign for Auburn.

College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Kentucky’s No. 1 as the top reshuffles

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There was definitely some shuffling at the top of the rankings this week.

Kentucky jumped up to No. 1 after they, as the No. 2 team in the country, knocked off then-No. 1 Michigan State. The Spartans fell to No. 4, behind No. 2 Louisville – who looked awesome in two wins, including a road win against Miami – and No. 3 Duke – who knocked off No. 5 Kansas.

To be perfectly frank, I don’t really see all that much difference between the teams in the top five, and if you were going to tell me that any one of them actually was the best team in college basketball, I might believe it.

Hell, I think that Villanova and Gonzaga probably belong somewhere in that conversation, too. Maybe even a team like Arizona or Washington as well.

It’s early in the year so these things are going to constantly change, but this is where I currently stand.

1. KENTUCKY (2-0, Last week: 2)
2. LOUISVILLE (2-0, 4)
3. DUKE (2-0, 6)
4. MICHIGAN STATE (1-1, 1)
5. KANSAS (1-1, 3)
6. VILLANOVA (1-0, 5)
7. GONZAGA (2-0, 8)
8. MARYLAND (2-0, 9)
9. VIRGINIA (2-0, 10)
10. TEXAS TECH (2-0, 11)
11. OREGON (2-0, 12)
12. SETON HALL (2-0, 13)
13. NORTH CAROLINA (2-0, 14)
14. ARIZONA (2-0, 16)
15. UTAH STATE (2-0, 15)
16. SAINT MARY’S (1-0, 17)
17. XAVIER (2-0, 18)
18. LSU (1-0, 19)
19. FLORIDA (1-1, 7)
20. MEMPHIS (2-0, 21)
21. WASHINGTON (1-0, NR)
22. AUBURN (2-0, 22)
23. TENNESSEE (1-0, 23)
24. OHIO STATE (2-0, 25)
25. TEXAS (2-0, NR)

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 21 Washington, No. 25 Texs
DROPPED OUT: No. 20 Baylor, No. 24 VCU

Best Bets: Previewing Auburn-Davidson, Baylor-Washington, Texas-Purdue

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As of this publication, the lines for the Friday games were the only ones posted. Games on Saturday and Sunday will be discussed using projections from KenPom.

No. 24 AUBURN vs. DAVIDSON, Fri. 6:00 p.m. (CBSSN)

  • SPREAD: Auburn (-2.5)
  • TOTAL: 144.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Auburn 73.5, Davidson 71
  • KENPOM: Auburn 75, Davidson 72

This has all of the makings of a bet that I love to make in November. Davidson is one of the most well-coached and experienced teams in college basketball, bringing back their top six from last season. That includes Kellan Grady, who is now healthy, and Jon Axel-Gudmundsson. Grady was the Preseason Atlantic 10 Player of the Year last year as a sophomore. Jon-Axel Gudmundsson won the award. This is a top 25 basketball team.

And they’re taking on an Auburn team that lost their three best players on a neutral floor. I’m not sold on J’Von McCormick being the answer to their problems, and I’m not sure that Samir Doughty is going to be able to replace what they lost in Jared Harper or Bryce Brown. I do like Isaac Okoro and I think he’ll give the Wildcats some issues with his athleticism and versatility, but to me this is a pick-em. If you’re telling me I can get points – or a ML that is around +110 – on Davidson, I’m in.

PICK: Davidson (+2.5)

WASHINGTON vs. No. 16 BAYLOR, Fri. 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • SPREAD: Baylor (-5)
  • TOTAL: 137.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Baylor 71.25, Washington 66.25
  • KENPOM: Baylor 71, Washington 66

Washington lost their top four scorers from a season ago and will replace them with a point guard that transferred in from Kentucky (Quade Green) as well as a pair of five-star freshmen. Isaiah Stewart is a monster, but I’m not sold on Jaden McDaniels stepping in and dominating as a freshman. Those two will be going up against a Baylor team with one of the biggest and toughest frontlines in America.

(You’re going to notice trend here.)

But I’m going to be on Baylor. They bring almost everyone back from last year’s 20-win team that went 10-8 in the Big 12, but in their season-opener on Tuesday afternoon, they started three guys – Tristan Clark, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell – that did not play during Big 12 play last season. Clark was injured and the other two sat out due to transfer rules.

Oh, and should I mention that the Bears were second in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage last season while Washington plays a zone? With two freshmen on their frontline?

PICK: Baylor (-5)

ARIZONA STATE vs. COLORADO, Fri. 10:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • SPREAD: Colorado (-5.5)
  • TOTAL: 146.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Colorado 76, Arizona State 70.5
  • KENPOM: Colorado 78, Arizona State 72

I really do not have any feel for this game, but considering that it is being played in China and that it is the first game of the season for both teams, I think I lean towards the under here. But that’s it. I’m mostly just interested in figuring out what to make of both of these teams. Colorado brings everyone back from a 23-win team, while Arizona State has a roster with some talent that has done nothing but underperform against Pac-12 competition the last two years.

PICK: Under 146.5

TEXAS at No. 23 PURDUE, Sat. 7:00 p.m. (FS1)

  • KENPOM: Purdue 72, Texas 63

I don’t think that this line is going to open up at Purdue (-9), but if it does, then Texas seems like the easy play. We know they are going to be one of the nation’s best defensive teams, and getting nine points is a lot of points in a game that I think will be played in the high-50s or low-60s. Throw in the fact that Purdue lost their top two scorers from last season and this feels like the line should be closer to 4.5.

PICK: Texas (+9)

FLORIDA STATE at No. 6 FLORIDA, Sun. 1:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM: Florida 69, Florida State 65

The Seminoles are coming off of a loss at Pitt in their season-opener and will take on a Florida team that most people expect to be an SEC title contender that has a chance of winning a national title. I liked Florida State on the road (-4.5) against Pitt, but I do not like the Seminoles on the road in a rivalry game.

PICK: Florida (-4)

ILLINOIS at No. 21 ARIZONA, Sun. 9:00 p.m. (PAC-12)

  • KENPOM: Arizona 76, Illinois 70

This is going to be a nightmare road trip for the Illini, who are playing at Grand Canyon on Friday night and have to follow that up with a visit to Tucson on Sunday night. The Wildcats looked good their first time out, getting 20 points from Zeke Nnaji in a blowout win over Northern Arizona. Illinois got taken to overtime by Nicholls State at home.

PICK: Arizona (-6)

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

BINGHAMTON at No. 1 MICHIGAN STATE (-35); 141, Sun. 7:00 p.m.

Michigan State will be looking to bounce back after a loss in the Champions Classic. I don’t think that foul trouble will be much of an issue in this one.

EASTERN KENTUCKY at No. 2 KENTUCKY (-29.5); 149.5, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Let’s see what Part II of the Tyrese Maxey Show has to offer.

UNC GREENSBORO at No. 3 KANSAS (-16); 144.5, Fri. 9:00 p.m.

It sounds like there’s a chance that Isaiah Moss plays in this one, and I fully expect the Jayhawks to bounce back from an ugly loss in a big way. I know UNCG is good, but Kansas I think Kansas is the best bet for a heavy favorite this weekend.

COLORADO STATE at No. 4 DUKE (-24); 146, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Niko Medved is a good coach, Duke is built on their defense and the Baby Blue Devils will be playing their first game in Cameron. Let’s see if Coach K can work through some of these offensive issues against someone that isn’t a title contender.

YOUNGSTOWN STATE at No. 5 LOUISVILLE (-26); 150, Sun. 2:00 p.m.

Jordan Nwora was terrific in the opener. Now that the Cards aren’t playing ACC teams, let’s see if they can find a way to get their point guard play up to snuff.

RHODE ISLAND at No. 7 MARYLAND (-12); 146, Sat. 9:00 p.m.

Rhode Island is probably a top five team in the Atlantic 10 this season, and that actually carries some weight this year. The Terps struggled early with Holy Cross. I think the Rams make this a game.

ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF at No. 8 GONZAGA (-32); 140, Sat. 8:00 p.m.

Gonzaga is banged up and thin in their backcourt. They should still roll.

No. 9 NORTH CAROLINA (-22.5) at UNC WILMINGTON; 161.5, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Cole Anthony will take centerstage once again, this time playing his first true road game as a collegian. Credit to Roy Williams, who is not afraid to play in-state mid-major competition in their building.

JAMES MADISON at No. 11 VIRGINIA (-24); 126, Sun. 6:00 p.m.

Virginia just gave up 34 points to Syracuse. KenPom has JMU’s team total at 51. I think if I’m going to bet this game, I’ll bet that under.

STONY BROOK at No. 12 SETON HALL (-21); 143, Sat. 2:30 p.m.

The Myles Powell Show heads into game No. 2. Seton Hall rolled in the opener despite not having Kevin Willard on the sideline.

BETHUNE-COOKMAN at No. 13 TEXAS TECH (-28); 146, Sat. 8:00 p.m.

Texas Tech looked better than I expected in the opener for a team that is as young as they are. I’ll be very curious to see what Jahmi’us Ramsey’s progression looks like this season.

UIC at No. 14 MEMPHIS (-20); 156.5, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

James Wiseman will be back in action after popping off for 28 points in his debut.

BOISE STATE at No. 15 OREGON (-11); 139, Sat. 11:00 p.m.

Payton Pritchard popped off for a monster game in Oregon’s opener against Fresno State. They continue their tour of the Mountain West with a date against Boise State.

UMASS-LOWELL at No. 18 OHIO STATE (-24); 144, Sun. 4:00 p.m.

The Buckeyes went eight minutes without scoring to open up their season at home against Cincinnati. I don’t think they’ll have that issue against UMass-Lowell.

SIENA at No. 19 XAVIER (-20); 143, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

I really like Siena in this game. I have a lot of respect for Carmen Maciariello and his ability to coach, and the truth is that Siena might have the best player on the floor in Jalen Pickett. They’re not getting 20-pieced.

BOWLING GREEN at No. 22 LSU (-13); 156, Fri. 8:00 p.m.

I’m high on this LSU team, and I think that they are undervalued heading into this season. I’ll lay the 13 points.

NORTH TEXAS at No. 25 VCU (-16.5); 134, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

North Texas is bringing back four starters. VCU still can’t shoot and wins with their defense. I think Grant McCasland and the Mean Green can hang in there and keep this respectable.

Santos-Silva leads No. 25 VCU past St. Francis, 72-58

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RICHMOND, Va. — Marcus Santos-Silva joked that he has a habit of stealing rebounds from teammates.

His guys weren’t the only victims on Tuesday night as he had 21 points and 18 rebounds for No. 25 VCU, which used a big early run to take command in a 72-58 victory over St. Francis in the season opener for both teams.

The Rams are not the biggest team, and Santos-Silva is just 6-foot-7, but the junior said size might be overrated.

“We just play with heart. We feel like we can beat anyone,” he said. “Height and stuff don’t matter to us. If we just go out there and play how we play, we can compete with anyone in the country.”

Coach Mike Rhoades said his big man’s secret is simple.

“You know how he rebounds everything? He goes after everything, and that’s his mentality. That’s huge,” Rhoades said.

The Rams looked sharp from the start, using a 23-5 spree to open a 25-9 lead with just over eight minutes left in the first half. Six players scored in the run, while the Red Flash missed 12 of 14 shots and turned the ball over six times.

“Against a team like that, at home, talented, the style they play, you can’t dig yourself that kind of a hole,” St. Francis coach Rob Krimmel said. His team finished with 19 turnovers against the Rams’ pressing, trapping defense, leading to 20 points for VCU.

Rhoades found plenty for the Rams to work on.

“We had some good stretches throughout the game but not enough long stretches,” he said. The coach also could have done without a few attempts at highlight reel alley-oop plays and other plays he described as “cute.”

“We got the jitters out. We got the first game out of the way,” Rhoades said.

The Red Flash, regular-season co-champions in the Northeast Conference last season, trailed by as many as 21 in the second half, but rallied to within 55-45 with 7:23 to play. But Marcus Evans scored the Rams’ next six points in an 8-2 run that pushed the lead back up to 16.

De’Riante Jenkins added 16 points and Evans scored 12 for the Rams.

Isaiah Blackmon scored 15 and Keith Braxton had 11 for the Red Flash. They finished 21 of 65 from the field, just 24.2%, with 19 turnovers.

BIG PICTURE

St. Francis: The Red Flash rely heavily on the tandem of Braxton, the reigning NEC player of the year, and Blackmon, but both struggled in the opener. They were both 2 for 9 from the field in the opening half as VCU opened its big lead. Neither ever found his stroke with Braxton finishing 4 for 15 and Blackmon 5 for 14.

“We wanted to make sure we wore Braxton down the whole time,” Rhoades said. Braxton played just over 35 minutes.

VCU: The Rams emphasized defense last season and were among the national leaders in several categories. They appear to have picked up where they left off. They forced eight first-half turnovers and limited the Red Flash to 23.5% shooting (8 for 33) and just one 3-pointer in 10 attempts in a dominant first half. Trying to come back, the Red Flash finished 6 for 21 from beyond the 3-point arc.

UP NEXT

St. Francis will again be in Richmond to face the Richmond Spiders on Friday night.

VCU remains at home and will play North Texas on Friday night.