RICHMOND, Va. – Juvonte Reddic said it was about getting back to basics. If he meant, basically running Stetson out of the gym, then Wednesday night was mission accomplished for VCU, which dismantled the Hatters 92-56 at the Verizon Wireless Arena.
In their first game back from the rugged Battle 4 Atlantis, the Rams looked like a baseball player who spent the weekend swinging a bat with a weighted donut, only to remove it in time for Wednesday’s game. VCU unloaded on the overmatched Hatters (2-3), dominating every facet of the game. If not for VCU’s dreadful 3-point shooting (5-of-22), the Hatters would be wearing their Stetsons much lower on their way back to Florida.
After a 1-2 showing at the “Battle”, where they played three top-25 teams in three days, the Rams looked loose against a team that is clearly not of the same ilk, no offense to Stetson. It makes the win difficult to assess, if the prism we’re viewing VCU through now is that of a team on par with the Dukes and the Missouris and the Memphises. But the Rams appeared to do everything they were supposed to do, and more.
“It’s always fun to play here. We had a tough little stretch in the Bahamas going 1-2, so we told ourselves to reset, come back to Siegel,” said junior Rob Brandenberg, who finished with 17 points.
While the Rams sought a reset, the Hatters would probably like a mulligan. Reddic benefited from Coach Shaka Smart’s post-friendly game plan, scoring a game-high 20 points on just 11 shots. VCU turned Stetson over 22 times and scored 32 points off those miscues. They won the battle on the glass 41-31. Ten players scored. Sophomore Jarred Guest enjoyed a breakout performance with career highs of 17 points and 10 rebounds
The Rams suffered through just one prolonged lapse all night, in which Stetson closed within 55-40 midway through the second half with a 13-0 run. But just as quickly as VCU led the Hatters back into the game, it snatched control away, using a 22-5 blitz over the next six minutes.
It wasn’t a top-25 upset, but it was a thorough win, by the basics.
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Prior to Wednesday’s game, Guest had scored four points and grabbed nine rebounds all season. But against Stetson, he booked his first career double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds in just 16 minutes. Guest was 6-of-7 from the field and six of his rebounds came on the offensive end.
“Our whole focus was just getting back to the basics, bringing havoc like we have in the past, so that was my whole goal,” the rangy, 6-foot-8 Guest said.
With his nose for the ball and range out to 17 feet, he thrust himself into the competition for minutes in VCU’s frontcourt. Including Wednesday’s game, junior center D.J. Haley has played five, six and seven minutes in his last three contests, which has allowed Guest and freshman Justin Tuoyo to audition for more playing time. Guest’s performance against the Hatters couldn’t hurt his chances for more minutes.
Guest struggled to crack VCU’s lineup last season and played just 81 minutes all year. He scored 18 points and hauled in 11 rebounds, total, in 20 games. This year, he started the Rams’ exhibition game against Virginia Union and saw action in five of VCU’s first six contests. After a year of adjustment, Guest says he’s starting to catch up to the speed of the college game.
“I guess just making that jump to pushing yourself. [Last year] was a new experience,” said the Columbia, S.C. native. “It’s a whole different level from high school to jump to college, especially our style of play, just buying into it.”
CUTS, SCRAPES, NICKS AND BRUISES
Freshman guard Melvin Johnson was on crutches and was not in uniform for Wednesday’s game. Smart said Johnson was suffering from a low-grade sprain to his right knee. The VCU coach says he is unsure when Johnson would return to the lineup, but was hopeful the Bronx, N.Y. native would be available for Saturday’s game against Belmont.
Senior point guard Darius Theus left Wednesday’s game with an apparent leg injury. Theus was hurt in a collision with a Stetson player with 6:19 remaining in the game and did not return. Smart said after the game he was unsure of Theus’ status.
Although the Rams shot .227 (5-of-22) from 3-point range, VCU was .660 (31-of-47) from inside the arc… Sophomore Briante Weber enjoyed a solid all-around performance with 11 points, five rebounds, four steals and four assists in 26 minutes… VCU held Stetson’s leading scorer and former Delaware forward Adam Pegg to one point and three rebounds in 22 minutes. Pegg entered the game averaging 18 points and six rebounds, but fouled out with 6:05 remaining… VCU has scored at least 90 points twice in seven games this season. The Rams did not reach the 90-point plateau once last season.