Rebounding, forced turnovers are key stat categories in Rams victory over Spiders
By: Joe Manganiello
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — From beginning to end, Virginia Commonwealth dominated Richmond, winning 71-53 by capitalizing on turnovers and controlling the glass.
VCU out-rebounded the Spiders 50-28, and forced 14 turnovers. The rebounding was a particular emphasis for the Rams entering the contest.
“We felt like we could have an advantage on the glass if that was a point of emphasis for us,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “Our guys did a great job following the plan, going hard to the offensive glass. We were able to force a lot of misses.”
Junior Briante Weber, recently named Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year, wasted no time taking control of the game. He scored 11 points before the under-8:00 media timeout, and added a three-pointer on the next possession. He finished with 18 points on 8 for 10 shooting.
“Bri gave us a terrific lift early on offensively, put the ball in the basket a lot, which we’ll take whenever we can get it,” Smart said. “I thought that gave us momentum early and we were able to get defensive stops to extend the lead.”
“We definitely came here with the mind‑set to win this thing,” Weber said. “We just came to take it one game at a time. We took care of business tonight. We’re going to watch this game coming up and see who we have to play next and we’re just going to make sure we do what we have to do to get the W.”
“I told Briante when he came to the bench that the way he started the game got me going,” sophomore Melvin Johnson said. “I didn’t shoot particularly well, but I still was into it. I felt really good. And I think when the team gets going, you know, we’re really dangerous.”
“We came out playing for a 40‑minute battle,” Johnson said. “We played them twice already – once our style of play, once their style of play – so we are real familiar with their offense. So for the most part, this was just a players’ game, just come out and play.”
Freshman Mo Alie-Cox had a couple huge dunks for the Rams, finishing with seven points, and a collection of 10 rebounds and two blocks. Smart was pleased with how his freshman stepped up in a big game.
“He’s just scratching the surface,” Smart said. “He’s a guy that even though he looks so big and strong, the biggest key with him is him believing more and more in himself and I think tonight was a big step towards that. I thought he was really big in affecting Kendall Anthony around the basket. Even though he was credited for two blocks, I think he effected a lot more shots than that. We just have to keep instilling confidence in him.”
Spiders junior Kendall Anthony had a difficult time shooting the ball against the swarming Rams defense, shooting 2 for 15 from the field and finishing with only seven points. The second-team all-conference selection had scored 20 or more points in 7 of his last 10 games.
The VCU victory started from the opening tip. Weber had 16 points on 7 for 8 shooting, four rebounds and two steals in the first half. The Rams forced 10 turnovers that led to 16 points, and VCU out-rebounded Richmond 27-11.
Graham had nine points and five boards in the opening period, and Johnson hit a pair of three-pointers. Freshman JeQuan Lewis dished out three assists in the first half, and the Rams doubled the assist totals of Richmond, 7-3.
The Rams take great pride in honoring the state rivalry between VCU and Richmond, as well as the well-traveled VCU faithful that made the trip to Brooklyn for a second straight year.
“Actually it’s a crosstown rivalry, probably six miles apart,” Weber said. “Any time you can beat a team three times no matter who it is, that’s big. And for to beat your rival three times, that just gives you more bragging rights.”
“I think [our fans] filled one third of the arena, and we are just fortunate to have a great fan support, being able to sell out 50 games in a row, and they just brought the show on the road for us,” Johnson said. “That’s demoralizing for other teams knowing it feels like a home game for us.”
“Last year we were surprised – this being our first tournament last year – [with] how many fans came out to support us,” Weber said. “This year we kind of knew what we were going to get when we came to Brooklyn, and they surprised us again because it was more than what I thought. Just playing in front of our crowd is just like playing at home.”
No. 2 VCU will take on No. 3 George Washington on Saturday. The winner advances to the Atlantic 10 championship game.
Joe Manganiello (@JoeMags_hoops) is a staff writer for pickinsplinters.com. He was published in the 2013-14 USA Today Sports College Basketball Preview. Peace, love, recycle and ball.