LAHAINA, Hawaii — The opportunity of a winning record in the Maui Invitational evaporated for VCU (3-3) as fast as one could pass the gravy boat.
Sophomore guard De’Riante Jenkins nailed a jumper to put VCU up three with two minutes to play. The Rams mustered no more scoring while Michigan executed an 11-point closing salvo that included a game-tying three-pointer from senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and six points from junior forward Moritz Wagner.
Michigan took VCU out of its comfort zone from the opening tip. The Rams forced a mere one turnover in the first half. They scored no points on the fast break.
VCU head coach Mike Rhoades introduced a diamond-and-one trap after halftime to a greater degree of success. His squad began to force mistakes from the Wolverines — nine second-half turnovers — and establish a faster rhythm.
“I thought we caught them off-guard a couple times. Got it caught in the air a couple times,” Rhoades said. “Then, we just sat down and guarded, and I thought we did a really good job of defensive rebounding and limiting them to one shot.”
The maize and blue did not run away and hide from the black and gold, in part because of an inability to string together three-pointers (5-20).
VCU closed the gap and eventually held the lead in the game’s penultimate minutes. Plus, the Rams were in the bonus; two factors that worked against the fortunes of Michigan head coach John Beilein.
“When people are playing you like that, they’re trying to speed you up and get you out of your comfort area. We just bought right into it,” Beilein said.
But the Rams’ execution down the stretch failed to get them to the line in the final eight minutes, however, as Michigan bested VCU for second time in as many tries since 2013.
Rhoades remained optimistic and pragmatic.
“We’ve got to continue to improve at this rate, Rhoades said. “We’re playing with people, but we have to learn to win games and put them away.”
Jenkins followed up the most sterling game of his career with 12 points in 35 minutes of action. Senior forward Khris Lane was perfect from the field and led the Rams with 13 points.
Lane, a transfer who is quickly establishing himself on VCU’s front line, took stock of where the Rams stand after three games in three days.
“I think we learned we can play with anybody in the country,” Lane said. “But it’s just about execution, playing hard, and playing solid defense for 40 minutes.”
VCU finished the tournament in sixth place at 1-2.
The Rams return to the mainland on Thanksgiving and resume play Tue., Nov. 28, in a 7 p.m. tip against Appalachian State at the Stu.