Larry Sanders hits a jumper in the second half to score two of his game-high 21 points A near sell-out crowd of 7,405 at the Siegel Center on Saturday night watched VCU sophomore forward Larry Sanders blossom into an intimidating inside presence that was just to much for the visiting Hampton Pirates to handle. In […]
A near sell-out crowd of 7,405 at the Siegel Center on Saturday night watched VCU sophomore forward Larry Sanders blossom into an intimidating inside presence that was just to much for the visiting Hampton Pirates to handle.
In what was the best all-around game of his career — so far — Sanders scored 21 points, grabbed 19 rebounds and blocked four shots in lifting the Rams over the pesky Pirates: VCU 59, Hampton 54.
On a night in which VCU had a difficult time hitting wide open jump shots, Sanders and senior guard Eric Maynor (20 points) combined for 41 points. The other three starters — Kirill Pishchalnikov, Joey Rodriguez and Bradford Burgess — made good on just three of their 14 shots, and scored a combined eight points.
Fortunately, VCU’s defense was just strong enough to hold Hampton (5-6) off. Although the Pirates also played hard on defense for most of the contest, Rams head coach Anthony Grant had to be happy to escape with a win on a night when his team was flat, coming off of a hard-fought loss to (No. 4 AP) Oklahoma last Saturday.
“We played like an immature basketball team in spots tonight,” said Grant. “I felt like we had opportunities throughout the game, to put the game away and we didn’t do that … if we want to start to become the basketball team we want to be, we’ve got to become more consistent in a lot of areas.”
Christopher Tolson led the Pirates with 18 points; Vincent Simpson scored 16 points.
The sloppy Rams turned the ball over 20 times and hit on a woeful 18.8 percent of their attempts from beyond the three-point line. With two key subs physically unable to play for a while, Grant didn’t choose to press the visitors on defense — especially in the back court — as hard as he might have, otherwise.
Hampton’s head coach Kevin Nickelberry singled out Rams sophomore guard Joey Rodriguez for praise. “Rodriguez really gets under your skin [on defense],” said Nickelberry with a chuckle. “I’d love to have five Rodriguezes.”
VCU’s star point guard Eric Maynor hits one of his patented running floaters in the first half.
Grant, who regularly depends on Maynor’s late-game heroics, was fortunate he had one additional money player on the floor for this game’s frantic finish. Without Sanders’ ability to stay out of foul trouble for 35 minutes of play, and be in the lineup when push came to shove, it’s hard to see how the Rams would have pulled this one out.
VCU (8-4, 1-0 in CAA) plays next on Sat., Jan. 3, at Delaware (5-7, 0-1 in CAA). Tip-off is at 4:30 p.m. (live broadcast on CN8).
– Words and photos by F.T. Rea