PRODUCT OF A SYSTEM; COLLECTIVE VCU OVERCOMES INJURY

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VCU banded together to overcome an injury to Melvin Johnson and secure a berth in the A-10 Championship Game.

VCU banded together to overcome an injury to Melvin Johnson and secure a berth in the A-10 Championship Game.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Calling VCU’s style of play “Havoc” may be good marketing, but it’s no façade. There’s substance to this style.

Given its pervasiveness, Havoc has surpassed the individual star power of every Ram to play within it in the last five years under Shaka Smart – save Larry Sanders – because it’s never been about individual talents. It’s a collective, an attacking army on both ends of the floor. You cannot full court press with one player. You cannot trap alone.

It’s one of the reasons that VCU, despite yearly turnover, has been able to achieve an envious level of consistency during Smart’s tenure. It’s why the Rams, despite an injury to one of their most important players, Melvin Johnson, were able to secure a second straight trip to the Atlantic 10 Championship Game with a 74-55 win over George Washington Saturday at Barclays Center. The Rams will meet fourth-seeded Saint Joseph’s, which topped St. Bonaventure in the day’s first semifinal, Sunday at 1 p.m.

This was a sum-of-the-parts win. While VCU can certainly point to Treveon Graham’s 22 points or Briante Weber’s 16-point, 8-assists performance, blindly reading the box score won’t tell the whole story.

Five minutes into the game, Johnson, a Bronx native and the A-10’s Sixth Man of the Year, collapsed and clutched his left knee after attempting to run down a loose ball near midcourt. Johnson did not return to the game, although he emerged from the lockerroom early in the second half and sat on the VCU bench with his left knee in an inflatable cast. He will have an MRI on Monday.

Perhaps inspired by their fallen teammate, the Rams eventually overran the third-seeded Colonials in the final 10 minutes to turn a pressure-packed, back-and-forth battle into a laugher.

“I think the guys were upset, and that really motivated us,” said senior Juvonte Reddic of the Rams’ response to Johnson’s injury. “We played the second half for him. It was just all about him. A lot of the guys were just telling each other, ‘don’t think about yourself, think about somebody else’, and I think a lot of the guys did a good job thinking about somebody else.”

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WEBER’S POWER POINTS FUEL VCU

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Briante Weber scored 18 points Friday to propel VCU past Richmond and into the Atlantic 10 Semifinals.

Briante Weber scored 18 points Friday to propel VCU past Richmond and into the Atlantic 10 Semifinals.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Early in the first half of VCU’s Atlantic 10 Quarterfinal contest with Richmond Friday at Barclays Center, the league honored junior Briante Weber as Defensive Player of the Year with a graphic on the arena Jumbotron.

Below those glowing high-definition screens, Weber was already well on his way to proving he can do more than just defend. The 6-foot-3 guard scored VCU’s first six points Friday and hit his first seven shots of the game to fuel a lob-sided 71-53 victory over the Spiders. With the win, the Rams advance to the A-10 semifinals Saturday afternoon against George Washington, and complete a rare three-game sweep of the crosstown rival Spiders.

Weber scored 16 points in the first half as VCU built a comfortable 38-22 lead and finished with 18 points, five rebounds and two steals. He did it all in an efficient, game-altering 18-minute stint. Behind Weber’s offensive dominance, the Rams overwhelmed the Spiders early and were hardly threatened the rest of the night.

“I just came out with the mindset to attack, because in the prior game [with Richmond], I didn’t get to play that much,” said Weber, who came into Friday averaging 9.1 points per game this season. “So I actually wanted to play this game. So I came out with a chip on my shoulder, and I was just going to attack from the jump.”

Weber knocked down a mid-range jumper on VCU’s first possession, then ripped a steal and raced to a breakaway dunk for a 4-0 lead. A short time later, he was the beneficiary of a Juvonte Reddic offensive rebound, which he finished with a drive and floater. By then, Richmond was already on its heels. Moments later, there was a traditional three-point play, and then a layup. By the time Weber, who entered the game 8-of-37 from three this year, pulled up and hit a trey from the right wing in rhythm to give VCU a 23-13 advantage, two things became obvious. First, Weber was on his way to one of the best offensive nights of his career. Secondly, Richmond was in serious trouble.

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THE TAMBOURINE MAN

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Anna Bing with son Ellis earlier this season. Ellis Bingham joined the VCU Athletic Band "The Peppas" this season.

Anna Bingham with son Ellis earlier this season. Ellis Bingham, who has cerebral palsy, joined the VCU Athletic Band, “The Peppas”, this season.

RICHMOND, Va. – The VCU Pep Band’s new tambourine player has no musical background, but he’s quickly become one of the most inspiring members of “The Peppas” a boisterous troupe that churns out inspired songs. His name is Ellis Bingham, and although he can barely talk, outside of a handful of words, he’s never spoken with a louder voice – the sound of his spirited, rattling tambourine – than now.

You can find Bingham at Rams games seated in his motorized wheelchair – decorated with a VCU flag and bumper sticker – at floor level, left arm jutting skyward, gleefully shaking his tambourine as The Peppas gyrate their way through another raucous performance.

Known to his bandmates as just “Bing”, Ellis has cerebral palsy, a disorder caused by damage to the cerebellum in developing brains. People with cerebral palsy can face a wide range of motor control disabilities. For Bing, that means a number of physical and speech impairments, including the inability to walk. He can’t sit up without assistance and speaks mostly through a voice computer.

While he’s been faced with those obstacles throughout his life, the 22-year-old Richmond native and his mother, Anna Bingham, have rarely accepted those limitations at face value.

Anna calls Bing her “miracle”. Born 16 weeks premature, Bing weighed just 1-pound, 7.5 ounces at birth and could nearly fit in the palm of Anna’s hand. He spent the next four months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at MCV. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, which occurs more frequently in premature births, when he was about a year old.

“You go day by day,” Anna says of those challenging early years. “If I knew everything at the beginning that I knew at the end, it would have been too much. You take it day by day. I think your attitude is really important, as well as educating yourself and honestly believing in your child and believing he can do anything.”

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‘THAT ANIMAL’ WAS LOOSE IN NYC

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We did it again. We let “That Animal” loose in New York. The VCU Basketball team was playing Boston College Saturday night at Barclays Center, and that’s all well and good – the Rams won 69-50, by the way – but when you get the Rams, you get the whole experience. You get the VCU fan base, a lovable battalion of college basketball rapscallions that want nothing more than to take over the arena. You get The Peppas, VCU’s unstoppable Pep Band, one which can change an elevator music atmosphere into an AC/DC concert in the time it takes you to fire up your iPod. You get, “That Animal.”

If recent history is any judge, it seems That Animal – outside of turning the Stuart C. Siegel Center into a garbage disposal, blades of sound and pressure spinning everywhere, bearing down on the opposition – there’s nowhere they’d rather be than in New York, assuming control of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Don’t think people don’t notice this stuff.

‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE HAVOC (2013)

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 VQ0302MBK01_047H.JPG‘Twas the night before Havoc, and all through the stands,
Workers were prepping for the return of the Rams.
Players’ uniforms hung neatly in lockers with care,
In hopes that hoops soon would be there.

The fans were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of turnovers danced in their heads.
And the Rowdies in their t-shirts and Pav in his horns,
Began dreaming of a new season born.

When out on the court there arose such a ruckus,
They sprang to their feet see what ‘twas the fuss.
Away to the arena they dashed, their arms, they were flailing,
Threw open the doors and leaned over the railing.

The scoreboard cast a soft, warm glow on the refinished wood,
And gave luster to racks of basketballs that stood.
When, what to their wondering eyes should see afar,
But a Ram mascot and a team of all-stars.

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MEN’S HOOPS: CAL (PA.) HALFTIME NOTES

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Score: VCU 45, Cal (Pa.) 23

Storylines:

- VCU shot 54 percent (15-of-28) from the field and forced 11 Vulcan turnovers on the way to a 22-point lead. The Rams outscored the Vulcans

-Rob Brandenberg led VCU with nine points, while Briante Weber added eight. Doug Brooks and Treveon Graham added seven.

-The Rams limited Cal to 26 percent (8-of-31) shooting, including 3-of-19 from three.

-Despite the new rules, VCU committed just five personal fouls in the first half, compared to 13 for the Vulcans. The Rams’ first hand-check foul came on JeQuan Lewis at the 12:34 mark.

- While not usually notable for every school, it’s worth mentioning that the Rams went to a 2-3 zone midway through the first half. Kept it on for a handful of possession.

-Freshman Brooks was impressive, running down a steal at midcourt and knocking down a three from the right wing. He had seven points in the half.

-VCU used a 13-0 lead midway through the first half to push their lead to 28-7 and built on from there.

- Cal (Pa.) missed its first seven field goals and did not score until an Arman Marks 3-pointer from the left wing at the 15:23 mark of the first half.

- Brandenberg and Weber combined for 15 of Rams’ first 17 points.

VCU starters: Terrance Shannon, Juvonte Reddic, Treveon Graham, Rob Brandenberg, Briante Weber.

First subs: 17:40, Burgess/Johnson for Brandenberg/Reddic.

Tidbits: Jarred Guest in street clothes. Will not play while still recovering from a dislocated ankle. Has been back at practice for a few weeks, however.

FIRST HALF BOX

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A VERY VCU HALLOWEEN

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Yesterday, I asked you to send me your VCU-related Halloween pictures. What did I learn? You guys sure love dressing up your dogs, mostly. But thank you to all of you who sent in photos. I am slightly disappointed I did not receive any photos of kids dressed as “Mini-Shaka”. That’s something we’ll all need to work on for next year. Anyway, here’s a collection of photos people sent in, as well as other images with a VCU-slant in some way or another. Hopefully it’s good for a chuckle before hoops season kicks off Saturday.

More evidence of VCU Volleyball’s festive Halloween practice:

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That was good, but according to this San Diego State video, we still have plenty of work to do.

CATCHING UP ON CLIPPINGS

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With basketball season just around the corner, media coverage is ramping up. The Rams have been in the news a lot recently. Here’s a sample of some of the recent clips from around the Interwebs.

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FALL RAM REPORT NOW ONLINE

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Folks, the Fall 2013 edition of The Ram Report is now available online. Check out profiles on Men’s Soccer goalie Andrew Wells, Women’s Soccer Coach Lindsey Vanderspiegel, former first round draft pick Justin Orenduff and Field Hockey’s Nicole Barry, who had an interesting summer internship, plus a bunch of other good stuff. Click the cover below to read it all.

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