Saxen, Ducas lead Saint Mary’s past VCU in March Madness

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

ALBANY, N.Y. – Saint Mary’s got the pace it wanted – and another win in the NCAA Tournament.

Mitchell Saxen had 17 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, and Saint Mary’s beat ailing VCU 63-51 on Friday.

Alex Ducas also scored 17 points as the fifth-seeded Gaels (27-7) advanced to the second round for the second straight year. Logan Johnson had 12 points and 10 rebounds – part of a strong effort in the paint for Saint Mary’s – and reserve Augustas Marciulionis scored 13 points.

In a matchup of the Gaels’ more deliberate style and the Rams’ up-tempo game, Saint Mary’s controlled most of the action.

“I thought we’d beat them inside,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “Both teams have good guards. It was a gritty game, and we just kind of outlasted them a little bit and got a little separation and were able to hang on.”

Ace Baldwin led VCU (27-8) with 13 points, but he hurt his Achilles tendon and groin after taking a jumper with just over 14 minutes left in regulation. The Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year lay on the court for a couple of minutes before receiving treatment on the bench and back in the locker room.

VCU was down 38-34 when Baldwin left and 48-39 when he came back with 9:03 left after the Gaels of the West Coast Conference went on a 10-5 spurt sparked by a three-point play by Kyle Bowen.

Baldwin hit a jump shot after returning but left the floor for good three minutes later.

“It’s a bummer,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades said. “Your best player goes down in an NCAA Tournament game, like come on, man. But this is sports. This is competition. Things happen. You’ve still got to find ways. You’ve still got to find a way. Look, we got beat by a better team today. They played better in the second half than we did, and they won.”

Saint Mary’s held VCU to its second-lowest point total of the season. The Rams had 47 against Memphis.

“The whole second half, our message to each other was keep plugging, keep running our offense, and they’re going to break,” Saxen said. “(The injury) might have been the tipping point that broke the dam, but I think it’s a testament to our persistence and just trusting each other that we were able to just keep plugging until the water broke.”

Saint Mary’s, which held a 37-29 rebounding edge, will play No. 4 seed UConn or 13th-seeded Iona and coach Rick Pitino on Sunday.

The NCAA appearance was the first for 12th-seeded VCU since it had to forfeit a game in the 2021 tournament because of a COVID-19 outbreak. The Rams had won nine in a row.

Saint Mary’s held a 29-28 halftime lead in a rugged contest where neither team led by more than four points and tight, tough defense was the norm.


Saint Mary’s shot 3 for 17 from 3-point range and 41% (20 for 49) overall. Freshman guard Aidan Mahaney, who was averaging 14.5 points, was 0 for 5 from the field and didn’t score for the first time this season.

“Like I said before, this is the best sporting event in this country,” Bennett said. “So everybody’s watching. There’s a little pressure there. I look forward to seeing him play Sunday. He’s a good player. He got in foul trouble, and he didn’t have a great game today, but he’ll bounce back.”

VCU wasn’t much better. It only made six field goals in the second half. It shot 36.7% (18 for 48). Baldwin was its only player in double figures.


VCU: The Rams have a lot coming back, so they should be able to contend next season.

Saint Mary’s: The Gaels showed they can play defense, too.


Saint Mary’s got bounced in the second round by UCLA late year after beating Indiana by 29.

No. 22 UConn beats VCU 70-63 in OT for third at Atlantis

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – R.J. Cole scored 26 points and Isaiah Whaley hit two late 3-pointers in his return to the lineup, helping No. 22 UConn beat VCU 70-63 in overtime for third place at the Battle 4 Atlantis on Friday.

Whaley had 16 points for the Huskies (6-1), including a tying 3 late in regulation and the go-ahead 3 at the 3:54 mark in OT. He also came up with a punctuating three-point play with 4.5 seconds left, celebrating his breakaway basket by with celebratory punches and two head-butts on the padded basket support.

The 6-foot-9 graduate forward missed Thursday’s loss to Michigan State after fainting briefly after playing 43 minutes during a double-overtime win against No. 19 Auburn in Wednesday’s first round.

UConn won despite shooting just 33% while committing 22 turnovers, with Whaley’s 3 standing as the only basket in overtime for either team until the final 12 seconds.

Jayden Nunn scored 21 points for the Rams (3-4), who led by four late in regulation. VCU had its own offensive troubles, shooting 36% and going 2 for 9 in the extra period.

This was a defensive-oriented game with physical play, one in which neither the Huskies nor the Rams got many easy looks. And it turned nearly everything after halftime into a grind to the finish, with neither team leading by more than four points in the second half.

VCU led 54-50 before UConn’s Tyrese Martin knocked down a 3 from the corner. The Huskies tied it at 56 when Whaley knocked down a 3 off a kickout from Adama Sanogo with 1:05 left.

UConn got the last chance to avoid overtime with an inbounds play from near half-court with 0.8 seconds left, but Cole’s catch-and-turn 3 near his bench hit the rim and fell away to push the game into overtime.


VCU: The Rams opened the tournament by beating Syracuse 67-55, holding the Orange to 29% shooting, but they lost to reigning national champion Baylor 69-61 in Thursday’s semifinals. VCU’s defense is ranked among KenPom’s national leaders in defensive efficiency (88.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) and played like it, but the Rams just couldn’t come up with a couple of needed baskets late to win this one.

UConn: The Huskies’ first-round win was a memorable one, a wild 115-109 double-overtime victory against No. 19 Auburn filled with big shots down the stretch. UConn gave up the final nine points in a 64-60 semifinal loss to Michigan State on Thursday, but this time had enough to finish strong in the overtime against VCU’s defensive pressure.


VCU: The Rams get a week off before hosting Campbell on Dec. 4.

UConn: The Huskies host Maryland-Eastern Shore on Tuesday.

VCU tops Syracuse 67-55 in Battle 4 Atlantis opener

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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas- Levi Stockard III scored 15 points and Marcus Tsohonis added 12 to help VCU beat Syracuse 67-55 on Wednesday night in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

The Rams will play the winner of No. 6 Baylor and Arizona State in the semifinals on Thursday. The Orange will face the loser between the Bears and Sun Devils.

Syracuse won the championship in its only other appearance at the Battle 4 Atlantis in 2015. The Orange came into this year’s tournament on a low, having lost to Colgate in their last game.

VCU (3-2) trailed 38-36 early in the second half before scoring eight straight points to take a six-point lead on Tsohonis’ 3-pointer with 12:21 left. Jimmy Boeheim answered with his own 3, but that’s as close as Syracuse (2-2) could get the rest of the way.

The Rams haven’t given up more than 57 points in any of its first five games. It was VCU’s first victory ever against the Orange in four tries. The previous meeting came in 1992.

Buddy Boeheim scored 20 points and Jimmy Boeheim added 17 for the Orange.

Both Syracuse and VCU struggled early on from the field. The Orange trailed 21-18 late in the first half before closing the period on a 9-2 run over the final 3:58. Syracuse made only one field goal in the last 8:25 of the half. VCU wasn’t much better, making only two baskets after Jimmy Nichols Jr. shot made it 17-12 with 10:38 left.

The teams combined to shoot 15-for-60 from the field in the opening 20 minutes. Syracuse led 27-23 at the break.

VCU, Mike Rhoades agree to contract extension

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RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Commonwealth University men’s basketball coach Mike Rhoades has signed a two-year contract extension that will keep him on the Rams’ sideline through the 2026-27 season.

Athletic director and vice president Ed McLaughlin made the announcement.

Rhoades has compiled an 80-43 record in four years at VCU and led the Rams to the Atlantic 10 title in 2019 and NCAA Tournament berths in 2019 and 2021.

Defense dominates, Hoosiers beat Belmont in women’s NCAAs

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen
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SAN ANTONIO — Indiana had barely earned its biggest win in NCAA Tournament history when coach Teri Moren emerged from her locker room soaked from head to toe.

There could still be a lot of basketball ahead for the Hoosiers, but Moren saw no reason to stop the party after Indiana secured its first Sweet 16 appearance with Wednesday’s 70-48 win over Belmont.

“Those kids were pretty excited, got me pretty good in the locker room,” Moren said. “That’s OK. Wet pants, wet shirt, wet hair … Just to watch the pure joy these kids have right now is well worth it.”

Grace Berger scored 17 points and fourth-seeded Indiana delivered another suffocating defensive effort after holding first-round opponent VCU to just 32 points.

Indiana (20-5) was just as efficient on offense as four Hoosiers scored in double figures. Indiana advances to play North Carolina State, the No. 1 seed in the Mercado Region.

“Any time you’re the first in your program to do something, you’re excited,” Berger said.

Indiana is also the fourth Big 10 team to make the Sweet 16. Belmont was the first Ohio Valley Conference team to win a tournament game since 1990, but its hopes of becoming the fifth No. 12 seed to advance to the regional semifinals faded quickly.

Destinee Wells scored 16 points to lead Belmont (21-6), but her drives found few cracks in the Indiana defense and her Bruins teammates misfired from nearly everywhere on 3-pointers over the first three quarters.

“That’s what they hang their hat on,” Belmont coach Bart Brooks said. “We’re not the only ones who struggle to score against those guys. They’re really good.”

Indiana applied its clampdown almost immediately.

After taking a 15-12 lead into the second quarter, the Hoosiers allowed just six more points until halftime, stretching the perimeter on Belmont shooters Wells and Tuti Jones. Wells scored eight points in the first half but Belmont went scoreless over the final 4:27, missed all 13 attempts from long range and made 2 of 17 shots in the quarter.

That gave Indiana the breathing room it needed to methodically push ahead. A 10-2 run to halftime, keyed by consecutive baskets from Patberg, stretched the Hoosiers’ lead to 30-18 by halftime.

Belmont finally hit from long range in third quarter when Jones struck twice, including in the early seconds. But Indiana kept choking off Wells’ attempts to drive to the basket and Mackenzie Holmes blocked her first shots of the quarter.

The Hoosiers then launched a 10-3 run behind six points from Nicole Cardano-Hillary that had the Hoosiers ahead by 15. Grace Berger’s jumper sent Indiana into the fourth quarter ahead 51-33.


Belmont had three players foul out and got to the free-throw line just five times. Indiana made 19 of 25 free throws. Indiana held Belmont to 32% shooting and allowed no fast break points.


Moren noted her team has made it through the season and the opening two rounds of the tournament without a single case of COVID-19. Teams are undergoing constant testing in San Antonio.

“I told them we deserve a national championship (for that),” Moren said. “It’s because of the sacrifices and discipline we’ve had to get to this moment. … That says a lot about how important, and how special, this season was going to be for this group.”

No. 14 Texas Tech routs Sam Houston St to improve to 2-0

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Mac McClung is already doing for No. 14 Texas Tech exactly what he told coach Chris Beard he would after transferring from Georgetown.

McClung had 18 points to again lead the Red Raiders in scoring as they improved to 2-0 with an 84-52 victory over Sam Houston State on Friday.

“No surprises with Mac, He’s delivered,” Beard said.

“We knew what we were getting into when Mac was coming, he’s a scoring guard,” said Terrence Shannon Jr., one of Tech’s returning players. “He’s doing well out there right now. … We’re happy for him scoring the ball well.”

Marcus Santos-Silva, a graduate transfer, had 12 points and nine rebounds in 19 minutes to just miss out on another double-double. He is the only Texas Tech senior after starting all 64 games for VCU the past two seasons. Shannon had 10 points as the Red Raiders shot 50% percent from the field (26 of 52) and led by as many as 38 points.

McClung, the leading scorer for the Hoyas last season, has 38 points in 41 minutes of action in his first two games for the Red Raiders. The 6-foot-2 junior guard is 13-of-21 shooting, including 4 of 6 on 3-pointers. In the first eight minutes against Sam Houston State, he had two 3-pointers among 10 points as Tech already had a 20-4 lead.

“Mac’s playing the game the right way. He’s not forcing anything. He’s trusting the offense, he’s trusting his teammates. He’s trusting himself,” Beard said. “He came in here is a guy that has an edge second to none. … He’s the ultimate competitor, but also an unbelievable teammate.”

McClung scored 20 points in a 101-58 win over Northwestern State in his Tech debut, when Santos-Silva had 10 points and 13 rebounds while playing 18 minutes in that game Wednesday.

Zach Nutall had 14 points to lead three players in double figures for Sam Houston State (0-2), which shot only 31% from the field (17 of 54). Demarkus Lampley added 12 points and Bryce Monroe had 11.

“I thought we were a little intimidated and I thought their defense was so good that it took us out of what we wanted to do, and it took Zach out of the game, which I knew that was what they were going to try to do,” coach Jason Hooten said. “We’re not good enough yet when someone plays like that to figure out that second or third option, or take advantage of something they’re not doing.”

Nutall was coming off a 36-point game in the Bearkats’ season-opening 97-67 loss at SMU two nights earlier, when he was 12-of-23 shooting and had six 3-pointers. But he missed all six of his field-goal tries and had only four free throws at halftime against Texas Tech, where he finished 5-of-17 shooting overall and was 0 of 3 on 3s.

Sam Houston State’s roster has nine newcomers, five junior college transfers and four freshmen, and had pauses during preseason practice because of COVID-19 issues. Nutall, a junior guard, is the only of four returning lettermen with more than one letter.


Sam Houston State: Hooten called three timeouts in the first 10 1/2 minutes of the game, the third when the Bearkats were already down 18 and Nutall had missed his first five shots.

“I really was disappointed in the start. I still think we’ve got a few guys with the deer in the headlights look,” Hooten said. “I just think we’ll be better. We’ll be better for it.”

Texas Tech: Texas Tech has three transfers among their seven newcomers in McClung, Santos-Silva and sophomore guard Jamarius Burton from Wichita State. Burton had eight points and three rebounds. … The Red Raiders are 62-9 at home under Beard, who is in his fifth season with the Red Raiders.


After two lopsided wins, their third game in five days will be more of a test when the Red Raiders play No. 17 Houston on Sunday, before playing St. John’s.

“These two games, we’re going to learn a lot about our team through the great competition,” Beard said. “There’s an unselfishness and a flow to our team right now. It’s fun to watch.”


Sam Houston State: Plays Boise State on Sunday at Dickie’s Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.

Texas Tech: Plays No. 17 Houston on Sunday, also at Dickie’s Arena.