By Dan Gardella
Brooklyn – As the sun rose on quarterfinal Friday in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, there was still a question if more than one team would represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament. One team that is a lock are the VCU Rams.
But the team they were playing had other ideas. Rhode Island pulled off the upset, knocking off the top seeded Rams 75-70.
While they were seen as heavy underdogs, Rhode Island, who entered Friday afternoon fresh off of a dominating win over La Salle the day before, came in with a chip on their shoulder to pull off the upset.
For every instance where VCU began to build up a lead, Rhode Island would find ways to come back and make it a one possession game. The largest the lead would get for either side came at the 8:15 mark, when Marcus Santos-Silva converted on a second-chance opportunity to give VCU a 23-15 lead.
“We took some big shots form that team,” said Rhode Island head coach David Cox. “Especially in the first half.”
Soon after, the Rams would lose a key piece of their team.
With 6:42 left in the half, All-Atlantic 10 First Team Selection Marcus Evans stole the ball and drove toward the basket and tried to lay it in. However, contact in the air resulted in Evans falling awkwardly, leaving him on the floor slapping the hardwood in pain.
Immediately after Evans departure which left the VCU faithful in silence, the Rams missed two free throws, allowed a second chance basket, and turned the ball over, which allowed Rhode Island to cut the lead to four with just under six minutes to play in the first. But the question of how VCU would play without their star guard remained.
De’Riante Jenkins had an answer for it.
The junior knocked down three three-pointers, including consecutive shots from deep to extend the lead back to eight.
Rhode Island however, would not go away just yet. The Rams would take the eight point deficit and make it three before the halftime buzzer. The halftime score saw VCU leading 37-34.
Right as the second half kicked off, it was announced that it was simply a hyperextended knee for Evans. Nothing worse. But could VCU give him another chance to play in the tournament.
Santos-Silva opened the half on a run of his own, scoring from inside to begin the second half scoring followed by an old fashioned three point play to help the Rams lead by five in the early part of the half. He would score the team’s first eight points of the half for the Rams.
But Rhode Island would still stick around. Trailing 45-39, the Rams would go on a 7-0, five of the points coming from Dana Tate to give them their first lead since it was 6-5.
The lead would change hands a handful of times, with no team leading by more than four. With that said, Rhode Island would continue to find a way to hold onto the lead. The Rams would then serve the backbreaker that turned the game Rhode Island’s way.
With the shot clock running down, Jeff Dowtin took a few dribbles toward the three point line before firing up a running three-pointer at the buzzer sounded to give the Rams a six point lead with two minutes remaining.
That running shot would hurt VCU’s chances of coming back and advancing to the semifinals. Marcus Santos-Silva led VCU with 26 points and 22 rebounds. For the Rams, they now wait to see what happens on Selection Sunday.
“Down the stretch we had some good possession,” said VCU head coach Mike Rhoades. “We didn’t get enough momentum to get some things to go our way.”
Rhode Island was led by Dowtin, who scored 23 points in the upset victory. The Rams will face the winner of George Mason and St. Bonaventure at 1:00.
“That win was a testament to the strength of the culture of this basketball program,” said Cox. “They continue to play hard, they continue to play together, and now we are reaping some of those benefits.”
PHOTO: Jeff Dowtin/providencejournal.com