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VCU Rams hoped to play, but multiple COVID-19 cases ended their NCAA Tournament run

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NCAA Basketball: VCU at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The VCU Rams’ NCAA Tournament run ended before it even started after the program had multiple positive COVID-19 cases in 48 hours. This became the first major COVID-19 issue in the Indianapolis bubble.

The 10 seed Rams were scheduled to play 7 seed Oregon in the First Round of the West Region on Saturday night. VCU had some positive test results earlier this week and these were confirmed on Saturday. The Ducks advanced to the next round when the game was declared a no contest.

VCU Director of Athletics Edward McLaughlin said VCU had enough healthy members to play. However, the Marion County Public Health Department did not deem the situation safe.

Head coach Mike Rhoades said his team ate its pregame meal in its individual rooms on the 16th floor of the JW Marriott while the team waited to hear the decision. He said he felt confident the Rams would be allowed to play because they had at least five guys available.

“I was going up and down the hallway saying, ‘We’re like a wounded animal. You don’t want to play against a wounded animal,’ “ he said in a press conference Saturday evening.

Both McLaughlin and Rhoades said the team was disciplined and followed all the protocols, so they are not sure how the positive results came about. Matt Norlander from CBS Sports talked about the possibility of these cases coming from the hotel stay for the Atlantic 10 championship game. During the press conference addressing the situation, Rhoades said he did not want to speculate.

The Rams lost the conference championship game to St. Bonaventure. Rhoades said the team was disappointed in that performance but this week’s practices were going great, starting with their shoot-around on Monday.

“The guys, they had the vibe,” he said. “They were in such a good place and they were excited to play and be in the NCAA Tournament.”

Rhoades and the rest of the coaching staff were trying to stay positive while the entire team was on hold, but after talking to McLaughlin on the phone, he knew their season was officially over.

“We got the team in the middle of the hallway and we told them. It was devastating, it was heartbreaking,” Rhoades said. “No dry eyes. This is what you dream of as a college player and coach. To get it taken away like this is a heartbreaking moment in their lives.”

Those who tested negative are expected to head home on Saturday. While addressing the media, the program was still working on a plan to get those who tested positive back to Richmond through ground transportation in a safe manner, and then proceed with isolation.

Rhoades said the virus is something that is out of their control and there is no one to blame. He said he hopes the situation serves as a lesson on appreciating all opportunities because they can easily be taken away.

VCU was about to participate in the 18th NCAA Tournament in program history after reaching the A-10 conference championship game for the sixth time since 2012-13. The Rams finished the 2020-21 season with a 19-7 overall record.

“I think this virus has maybe put our feet on the ground a little bit,” Rhoades said. “As hard as this is right now, it’s still a basketball game. The No. 1 priority for me is make sure our guys get healthy and they’re always safe.”