RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — VCU likes being the favorite, but it loves being the underdog.
The preseason pick to win the Atlantic-10 Conference, VCU was listed sixth in the final nonconference standings before opening league play against Fordham on Thursday night. They played like they have something to prove.
It's almost like last season, De'Riante Jenkins said, when VCU was picked to finish seventh in the preseason, then won the regular season championship.
“Great things came from that (underdog) mentality,” Jenkins said after the Rams' 64-46 victory against Fordham. “We're just going to keep that mentality.”
Mike'L Simms scored 14 points, Marcus Santos-Silva had 11 and the Rams used big runs in each half to coast to victory. The Rams (11-3) had a 14-1 run in the first half and a 16-1 spurt early in the second half to put the game away.
The latter left VCU with a 57-31 lead with 11 minutes left and Fordham never challenged.
“We know that every game we're going to have a target on our backs and everyone's just going to come at us, so we're just hungry,” Santos-Silva said.
Onyi Eyisi scored 13 points and Erten Gazi 10 to lead the visiting Rams (6-7). Fordham turned the ball over 18 times leading to 22 points for VCU.
“The biggest problem is their defense in the halfcourt,” Fordham coach Jeff Neubauer said. “I mean, they are absolutely elite and we've talked to our team a lot over the past two years about trying to become more like VCU defensively. They're just that good.”
VCU already led 14-10 when it launched a 14-1 run miday through the first half. But Fordham answered immediately with a 14-4 burst to close to within 32-25 before Nah'Shon Hyland beat the halftime buzzer with a 3-pointer for VCU.
VCU played without reserves Malik Crowfield (broken wrist) and Corey Douglas (left foot), and Fordham was without No. 3 scorer Antwon Portley (10.6 ppg, ankle).
Fordham: The Rams committed 10 first-half turnovers and caused coach Jeff Neubauer to call a timeout 63 seconds into the second half. After Simms hit a 3 for VCU, Kyle Rose attempted a long pass that Santos-Silva intercepted and, seconds later, Jenkins' 3 made it 41-25, prompting the quick timeout.
VCU: The Rams are back to causing havoc with half-court traps and the like, averaging more than 19 turnovers forced per game, but their half-court defense has also improved with opponents averaging under 62 points.
“They're so consistent. They're so solid in what they do,” Neubauer said. “Last year and this year, they are good as anybody in basketball.”
NOT LOOKING AHEAD, BUT ...
VCU will play at George Mason and at home against Rhode Island before the first of its two games against No. 20 Dayton, which has received the lion's share of attention about the league so far. The Rams are taking games one at a time, Jenkins said, and “we have to focus on our own team. We have to play them, and we look forward to that, but we've got games to take of before that.”
Fordham returns home to face LaSalle on Sunday.
VCU heads up I-95 to face George Mason in Fairfax, Virginia, on Sunday.
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