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Beating Coach John Thompson’s Hoyas remains a sweet memory for former VCU Rams

Fred Jeter | 9/10/2020, 6 p.m.
One of Virginia Commonwealth University’s most memorable basketball victories came at the expense of one of the sport’s iconic coaches ...

One of Virginia Commonwealth University’s most memorable basketball victories came at the expense of one of the sport’s iconic coaches — the late Coach John Thompson Jr. of the Georgetown University Hoyas.

On March 1, 1978, the VCU Rams posted their first-ever, postseason triumph, an 88-75 win over the Hoyas.

It came in the semifinals of the East Coast Athletic Conference, or ECAC, South playoffs at the Smith Center on the campus of George Washington University in the nation’s capital.

“That’s what got it started for VCU,” recalled point guard Ed Sherod. “That put us on the map. And you couldn’t miss that big guy (Coach Thompson) over there with the towel on his shoulder.”

Coach Thompson, a towering 6-foot-10 leg- endary figure in basketball, died Aug. 30, 2020. Coach Thompson, who played from 1964 to 1966 with the NBA’s Boston Celtics, went on to coach the Hoyas from 1972 to 1999, taking the team to the NCAA Tournament 20 times, including three NCAA title games in the 1980s and winning the national championship in 1984.

Coincidentally, Coach Thompson recruited Sherod when he was among the state’s leading scorers at John Marshall High School under Coach Frank Threatts.

“I was a shooting guard and Coach Thompson was really looking for a point guard,” Sherod recalled. “But then I wound up at the point for VCU.”

VCU did not gain full NCAA Division I status until the 1974-75 season. The Rams were a distinct underdog playing in D.C. against the Hoyas, who were building a national reputation under Coach Thompson.

“We shocked a lot of people,” recalled Chip Noe, a senior forward on the VCU team at the time. “It was a huge victory. I’d rate it in the top five all time for VCU. Well, at least the top 10.”

At the time, Coach Thompson was in his sixth season as Georgetown coach. By that time, his Hoyas had been to the NCAAs in 1975 and 1976 and to the NIT in 1977.

By contrast, VCU, then under second-year Coach Dana Kirk, had never been to any post- season event. All previous VCU seasons had ended with the final game of the regular season. The Rams were still playing some home games in the tiny Franklin Street Gymnasium.

Both VCU and Georgetown were basically independent in 1977-78, but loosely affiliated with the far-flung ECAC. Many VCU fans didn’t even know of the conference affiliation.

VCU joined the Sun Belt Conference while Georgetown entered the Big East, both prior to the 1979-80 season.

For that VCU-Georgetown postseason game in 1978, the Rams rode up to D.C. with three freshmen starters, Sherod, Penny Elliott from Clearwater, Fla., and Danny Kottak from Louisville.

The headline in the March 2 daily city news- paper after the Rams’ victory read: “Rams Rip Hoyas with Freshmen.”

Other starters were Gerald Henderson from Richmond’s Huguenot High School and Ren Watson from Buckingham, who were recruited to VCU under previous Coach Chuck Noe, team member Chip Noe’s father.