Augustas Marciulionis helps St. Mary’s outlast the VCU in the NCAA tournament


ALBANY, New York. — Friday’s opening round match between St. Mary’s and VCU here at the MVP Arena went almost as expected when two things happened that changed the course of the afternoon.

Most notably, VCU star Ace Baldwin is the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year as well as the league with 14-22 in the game and St. Mary’s four-point lead defensive Player of the year, went up for a long jump and didn’t get up.

It turned out he had torn an Achilles tendon and although he tried to come back a few minutes later – and even fired a shot – he was unable to continue as his team’s hopes faded.

“He did his best but he couldn’t push off at all,” said VCU coach Mike Rhoades after St. Mary’s (27-7) drove to a 63-51 win. “He wanted to play and we needed him to play, but he just couldn’t.”

The second key to the result was more subtle: the play of St Mary’s second Augustas Marciulionis, the Gaels third guard. With star Aidan Mahaney in dire trouble and a tough shooting day – missing all five attempts from the field – Marciulionis was a spark off the bench. He played 22 minutes — 15 of them in the second half — and scored 13 points, grabbed three rebounds and made just one turnover, despite doing most of his team’s ball handling.

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“We’re definitely going to need him as one of our main players next season,” said St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett. “Since Aidan was struggling, we really needed him Today. Normally I would have brought Aidan back for the last five minutes but Augustas played so well that I decided to ride with him. He saved us.”

If the name Marciulionis sounds familiar, that’s because he’s the son of a basketball icon — Lithuanian Sarunas Marciulionis, who played on the Soviet Union team that upset the United States at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and then , after the Soviet Union fell, played in the next two Olympics with Lithuanian teams winning bronze medals.

I met Marciulionis in Seoul in 1988 and spent a lot of time with him. His English was excellent – in contrast to my Lithuanian – and we spoke often. One day after we finished, I proudly said to him “Spasibo” – Russian for thank you. He raised a hand and said, “Stop. i am lithuanian It’s “Aciu”. ”

Augustas isn’t as good as his father, a Hall of Famer who spent eight years in the NBA, most notably with the Golden State Warriors. But he’s a smart, exhilarating guard who, Bennett said, is expected to do big things for the Gaels over the next two seasons.

Bennett and the older Marciulionis met while both were in the Bay Area and they became friends. When Marciulionis retired after the 1997 season, he moved back to Vilnius and established a basketball academy. The two men stayed in touch.

“When I first went to Vilnius, Augustas was 1,” Bennett said, laughing. “I remember him in his car seat but to be honest I didn’t pay much attention to him. I came back when he was 17 and I gave him a lot of attention.”

Augustas started playing when he was 6 years old and immediately liked the game. But he said his father never pushed him to play. “He always said it was me,” Augustas said. “If I wanted to play, he would try to help me. But it was always about me.

“When I really started to enjoy playing he didn’t train with me very often but we watched games on TV all the time and he would point out little things for me, things I should try and things I should should try not to do it. I learned a lot.”

He also learned early on that his father was an icon in Lithuania, but bragging about it wasn’t allowed.

“When I first started acting, I found out that my father was a very big star,” he said. “I was proud and started telling all my friends that my father was Sarunas Marciulionis.” He paused and laughed. “My parents found out I was boasting. And then told me to stop — or else. I stopped.”

Bennett has been at St. Mary’s for 22 seasons; Friday’s win was his 507th in the opening game of his ninth NCAA tournament. He was overshadowed in the West Coast Conference by future Hall of Famer Mark Few, whose Gonzaga teams have participated in 24 straight NCAAs and two national title games.

Bennett has recruited internationally since he first joined the school in Contra Costa County. Besides Marciulionis, two of Friday’s starters came from Australia; Bennett has also recruited players from Eastern Europe and New Zealand, as well as Patty Mills, another Australian from the NBA.

“I was never able to visit St Mary’s because of Covid,” Marciulionis said. “But I felt comfortable with the idea of ​​playing for Coach Bennett because he was friends with my dad. Also, I knew he recruited a lot of players from all over the world and I liked that idea.”

These players seem to bring a joy to the game that American players often lack.

As VCU’s Jalen DeLoach prepared to start the second half, the Gaels’ Alex Ducas, who hails from Geraldton in Western Australia, stood in front of him To sing. “I love to sing,” he says, laughing. “I do that all the time.”

Ducas sang “Intro” by rapper Meek Mill. DeLoach enjoyed it almost as much as Ducas. “He said to me, ‘I didn’t know rap had come to Australia yet,'” Ducas said. “He loved it.”

As it turned out, the game wasn’t over when Baldwin went down minutes later. The Rams (27-8) kept fighting, but without Baldwin and with Marciulionis calmly leading the offense, the Gaels steadily pulled away.

Rhoades, normally calm on the bench, felt the game slipping away from him and did something he had seldom done in his six years as VCU coach: he caught a technical foul.

“You clearly missed a foul on the inside,” he said, before walking down the hall. “I said, ‘C’mon, call it!’ He paused and added, “Then I said, ‘F—.’ ”

Rhoades’ frustration was understandable. His team was understaffed as No. 12, despite winning the Atlantic 10 by three games and then winning the conference tournament. The committee didn’t do St. Mary’s any favors either, sending it across the country as a No. 5 seed.

The Gaels have survived because they are tough, experienced and well trained; because they made it almost impossible for VCU to score indoors; and because they got an excellent performance from a player with a famous surname who would not become a star until next season.

When I finished interviewing Marciulionis in front of his locker, I shook his hand and said “Aciu”.

He smiled and said, “My father would be proud of you.” Augustas Marciulionis helps St. Mary’s outlast the VCU in the NCAA tournament

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