RICHMOND, Va. – With junior Juvonte Reddic fighting foul trouble, classmate D.J. Haley stepped up and delivered his best performance of the season.
Haley, who came into the game averaging 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds per game, was a game-changer in the paint for the Rams. He recorded season-highs in points (6), rebounds (6) and minutes (15). He also blocked two shots.
“I really wanted to come out and make sure I was doing all I could for my teammates,” the 7-footer said. “The main things I focused on were being focused and being aggressive and it paid off today.”
Opportunities have been hard to come by of late for Haley, who has been averaging fewer than seven minutes per game in his last five appearances. VCU Coach Shaka Smart has cut into Haley’s minutes of late as mental lapses and other miscues have piled up. But Saturday, Haley was assertive and proved to be a difference-maker for the Rams.
“That’s the D.J. that we know and love,” Smart said. “If we can find a way to get him to bring that energy and talk and enthusiasm every day then he will be a very, very good player for us. It started in practice, though. He had a great week of practice.”
Haley is known as one of the more cerebral players on the VCU team. The Palmdale, Calif. native originally majored in engineering before switching to psychology this year. Smart believes that sometimes it’s difficult for Haley to separate homework and hoops.
“D.J.’s always been a guy, when school gets done….he’s been able to lock in and focus more on basketball only,” Smart said. “But the reality is for the majority of the season our guys are student-athletes. They’ve got to go to school. They’ve got to take exams. They’ve got to go to study hall. So he’s got to get better and better at learning how to multi-task. But for the next month we have no school, so hopefully we can keep building and building.”
Freshman Melvin Johnson was billed as a shooter, but he certainly didn’t look like one the first nine games of the season. Sure, the smooth Bronx, N.Y. guard could slice through defenses as well as any Ram, but his 2-of-16 shooting from beyond the 3-point arc belied his “shooter” tag.
But Saturday, Johnson knocked down 3-of-4 from 3-point range and finished with 12 points. Johnson said after the game that extra repetitions in practice have helped him, but that there was a mental component to his struggles as well.
“[The] speed of the game. It’s a different level. It’s a different animal, and I wasn’t ready. Not as ready as I should’ve been. But I think I’m adjusting now,” he said.
Johnson is averaging 5.7 points in 12.2 minutes off the bench for the Rams this season. Although he hasn’t played more than 22 minutes in any game, Johnson has cracked double-digits three times.
“He’s as good a scorer as we have on our team,” Smart said.
Former Ram Jesse Pellot-Rosa delivered a stellar guest star performance Saturday. Pellot-Rosa was called on prior to tip-off for the Papa John’s Shootout and sank a half-court shot to win free pizza for the entire arena.
But Pellot-Rosa, who played for the Rams from 2004-07, wasn’t even supposed to participate.
But after a cancellation, Assistant Athletic Director for Athletic Communications Scott Day needed to find a replacement, so he first called Brandon Rozzell, but Rozzell wouldn’t be able to make it on time. Day then called Pellot-Rosa, who agreed and made it to the arena as starting lineups were being announced.
Pellot-Rosa performed a couple of stretches and ran onto the floor. After knocking down 3-pointer, he scurried to half-court. Pellot-Rosa narrowly missed two shots from that range before canning the third.
VCU’s 73-54 victory tied the second-worst loss in the career of Alabama Coach Anthony Grant. Grant, 145-67 in seven seasons – including three with VCU from 2006-09 – saw his Crimson Tide suffer a 78-51 loss to Florida on March 1, 2011… Alabama’s 18 turnovers Saturday are a season-high… VCU outscored Alabama 19-10 in points off turnovers and 17-5 in second chance points… Saturday’s game marked the 23rd straight sellout at the Verizon Wireless Arena… Troy Daniels is 12-of-24 from beyond the 3-point arc in his last two games.