No. 20 VCU battles Purdue in Emerald Coast Classic

The Associated Press

No. 20 VCU has entered uncharted waters, and bigger tests lie ahead for the Atlantic 10 member.

The Rams will face Purdue in the final game of the third round of the Emerald Coast Classic tournament on Friday night in Niceville, Fla.

VCU has started the season 6-0 for the first time in school history. All of the wins were racked up at home, beginning with a 72-58 victory over St. Francis (Pa.) on Nov. 5.

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The Rams won two close games in the next nine days, beating North Texas 59-56 and then making a big statement with an 84-82 win over then-No. 23 LSU.

In three of the six wins, guard Marcus Evans topped the scoring, including a season-high 25 against Alabama State in Monday's 78-62 win.

Marcus Santos-Silva has led in points twice, while guard Mike'L Simms paced the way in a 93-65 win over Jacksonville State on Nov. 17.

Santos-Silva has been VCU's dominant force in the paint, leading in rebounding in every game and snaring 10.5 boards per game. His best was an 18-rebound outing in the season-opener against St. Francis.

Four of VCU's victories have been by double figures, allowing third-year coach Mike Rhoades to turn to his reserves to close out games.

Rhoades said his bench's game experience should pay dividends as the season plays out.

"Getting this valuable time and experience early in the year with some of these big leads, I think it's going to help us here in the next six games," said Rhoades, who has a 49-23 record with the Rams.

"We play some doozies coming up, and we're going to need those guys to step up. We don't want anybody (getting) deer in the headlights. They've played enough minutes in the first six games to be ready to go for anybody we play down the road."

Purdue (3-2) has won two straight after tough losses to Texas and Marquette.

In both of the defeats, the Boilermakers held leads that slipped away due to poor shooting.

Purdue held a 38-25 edge against Marquette in the Gavitt Tipoff Games in Milwaukee but struggled in a weak-shooting second half.

The Boilermakers shot just 5 of 25 in the second half. They capped off the dismal performance by sinking just two of their last 17 field-goal tries and lost 65-55 as Marquette beat Purdue for the first time in 10 meetings.

The team has strength inside with 7-foot-3 center Matt Haarms and 6-foot-9 forward Trevion Williams. Coach Matt Painter said taking care of the ball and working it inside are keys to Purdue's success.

"We have a strength if we can take care of the basketball," Painter said. "I think we lose that strength if we can't. (VCU's) a team that can take that away pretty easily by getting you to go at a faster speed that's a little bit too high for particular individuals."

Guard Jahaad Proctor leads Purdue with 15.6 point per game, and Haarms (12.0) and guard Eric Hunter Jr. (10.0) round out the team's double-digit scorers.

--Field Level Media

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