RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Mike’L Simms didn’t care that he had missed all six of his shots when the ball came to him with just over two minutes to play.
When he let fly from the top of the key, it gave No. 25 VCU three critical points in what became a 59-56 victory against North Texas on Friday night.
The Mean Green responded with a 3-pointer of their own by DJ Draper, but Simms hit again from the top of the key with the shot clock running down.
“My teammates trust me and I trust myself,” Simms said.
Marcus Evans led VCU (2-0) with 13 points and De’Riante Jenkins had 12, including two free throws with 10.5 seconds left.
The Mean Green (1-1) had a chance to tie it but never got off a shot against the Rams’ tight defense.
“That was a grind,” Rams coach Mike Rhoades said. “It was a good test for us even though when we got the lead we couldn’t keep it.”
North Texas trailed most of the night but went ahead 48-47 on Draper’s 3-pointer with 5:25 to play. Jenkins answered with two free throws, and after a miss at the other end, Corey Douglas scored on a putback for the Rams, just their second field goal in 12 attempts.
After two free throws by Umoja Gibson pulled North Texas within 51-50, Simms connected on a 3-pointer from the top of the key, his first field goal in seven tries. He did it again with 1:10 to play after Draper’s fourth 3-pointer pulled the Mean Green to within 54-53 with 1:41 remaining.
Early in the season, tense final minutes are “huge,” Rhoades said. “It’s great for guys to go through that.”
The atmosphere was great for the Mean Green, coach Grant McCasland said, but the outcome was not.
“We gave ourselves a chance to win,” he said. “Extremely disappointed that we didn’t.”
The Rams trailed 19-11 before holding North Texas scoreless for more than nine minutes while scoring 20 consecutive points. Jenkins had eight points in the burst, and Malik Crowfield and Evans hit 3-pointers. The Mean Green had 13 turnovers in the opening half, nine during the Rams 20-point blitz.
“You turn the ball over to this group and they start going up and down, it’s over,” McCasland said.
North Texas: The Mean Green had 13 first-half turnovers that led to 16 VCU points, but they turned that around in the second half with just five more giveaways.
VCU: The Rams were outscored 26-10 in the paint and 16-7 on second-chance points as Marcus Santos-Silva, who had 21 points and 18 rebounds in their opener, was quiet, finishing with just three points and seven rebounds.
North Texas plays at Arkansas next Tuesday night.
The Rams face former coach Will Wade and No. 22 LSU next Wednesday night.