RICHMOND, Va. — Shaka Smart knew a run was coming, even after Texas took a 19-point second half lead in Smart’s return to VCU.
And when it came, and VCU actually grabbed a 1-point lead with under four minutes to play, turning the Siegel Center into what Smart used to refer to as “that Animal,” the Longhorns had their own moment of reckoning and gathered themselves up to come away with a 71-67 victory on Tuesday night.
“We knew we had to withstand it and throw a punch back,” Texas forward Dylan Osetkowski said.
The victory was the first in a true road game for Texas in more than a year. They went 0-11 on opponents’ floors last season.
Smart, who coached the Rams for six seasons and won 163 games as their coach, claimed career victory No. 200.
“We have to be better at playing with leads,” Smart said. “We need to do a better job handling when other teams make runs.”
Smart received a warm welcome when he appeared on the court before the game, and joined VCU coach Mike Rhoades in honoring longtime basketball program secretary Dianne Long for 30 years of service at midcourt, but once the game got going, he was just another opposing coach that the Rams wanted to beat.
“I’m appreciative of Mike recommending that people be nice,” he said of the pregame reception.
Andrew Jones scored 19 points and Osetkowski added 17, including a corner 3-pointer that gave Texas a 67-63 lead with 55 seconds left.
Mohamed Bamba, who added 13 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks for Texas, had ended a more than four-minute scoring drought for the Longhorns by making a pair of free throws to give Texas a 64-63 lead with 1:34 to play, and VCU made only one more shot — a 3-pointer by De’Riante Jenkins — the rest of the way.
Texas (6-2) led 57-38 after opening the second half on a 17-6 run, but VCU (5-4) used a 25-5 run to take the lead at 63-62.
“We’ve got to find ways to execute late in games and pull these close one out,” Rhoades said. “We’re not there yet. We’re close.”
After a free throw by Mike’l Simms for VCU, free throws by Kerwin Roach II and Eric Davis Jr. pushed Texas’ lead to 69-64.
Jenkins hit a 3-pointer for the Rams with 18 seconds left, but Davis sealed it for Texas with a pair of free throws with 13.8 seconds on the clock.
THE BIG PICTURE
Texas: The Longhorns were 0-11 in true road games last season and picked a very difficult venue to play their first true road game this season. When VCU took the lead with 3:51 remaining, the noise was deafening at the Siegel Center, but two free throws by Bamba seemed to calm the Longhorns.
VCU: The Rams are an improving 3-point shooting team and got themselves back in the game from beyond the arc. Lane made four 3-pointers in the second half and Jenkins made one with 18.5 seconds left to get them within 69-67.
Bamba, a freshman, had a highlight reel dunk that quieted the crowd in the first half. He took a pass near midcourt, dribbled twice and then towered over Lane for the dunk. “I thought it was Space Jam,” fellow freshman Matt Coleman said. Coleman, a Norfolk, Virginia native, said he had about 40 friends and family at the game.
Texas is back home against Michigan next Tuesday.
VCU faces Seton Hall in the Never Forget Tribute Classic in Newark, New Jersey.