RAMS MASTERFUL IN WIN, FLASH POTENTIAL

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Melvin Johnson hit 8-of-11 three-pointers and scored a career-high 27 points Saturday.

Melvin Johnson hit 8-of-11 three-pointers and scored a career-high 27 points Saturday.

RICHMOND, Va. – Shaka Smart is about as cerebral a coach as there is in college basketball, one who can effortlessly quote Mark Twain, Maya Angelou and John Keats in the same conversation. But Saturday, following VCU’s 82-52 victory over Virginia Tech at the Richmond Coliseum, he was, but for a moment, reduced to something more along the lines of Bill S. Preston, Esquire.

When asked to elaborate on how it felt to watch his team stage an is-this-really-happening 37-2 blitzkreig that blew the game wide open in the first half, Smart pondered, grinned and leaned into the microphone.

“It was fun,” he mused.

Sometimes less is more. What Smart’s taut assessment revealed was both his delight in the Rams’ success, as well as the sheer magnitude of the performance. In one 11-minute segment, VCU turned a 6-0 deficit into a 37-8 blowout. It wasn’t so much basketball as art. In the Havoc genre, this was the Mona Lisa, painted in less time than it takes to make a meatloaf.

That run, which VCU finished with 31 straight points, keyed the Rams’ most dominant performance of the season, one which saw sophomore Melvin Johnson explode for a career-high 27 points and eight 3-pointers.

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TECH GAME WILL HAVE OLD-SCHOOL FEEL

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Governor Bob McDonnell at the inaugural Holiday Hoops Classic press conference with head coaches from the eight participants of the 2012 and 2013 doubleheaders.

Governor Bob McDonnell at the inaugural Holiday Hoops Classic press conference with head coaches from the eight participants of the 2012 and 2013 doubleheaders.

RICHMOND, Va. – On Saturday, VCU will return to the Richmond Coliseum, where even the mystique is a little musty. The cavernous, oft-maligned downtown arena has seen better days, but VCU shares a great deal of history with its erstwhile home. So don’t be surprised if the Rams’ meeting with Virginia Tech at 5:30 p.m. in the Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic has a throwback feel.

The game will be a throwback to the days when the J.D. Barnett-coached “Runnin’ Rams” lorded over Sun Belt foes and packed the house. Even after VCU opened the Stuart C. Siegel Center in 1999, the Rams played in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament at the Coliseum each March. VCU won four CAA crowns – the most of any of the four conferences the Rams have played in – on that floor.

VCU last played at the Coliseum on March 5, 2012, when it defeated Drexel 59-56 for the CAA Championship. Last season, which saw VCU move from the CAA to the Atlantic 10, was the first in which the Rams did not play a single game at the Coliseum since the building opened in 1971.

For all its flaws – of which old age is the most obvious – the Rams have always been hard to beat in the arena. During the Barnett era (1979-85), the Sun Belt was likely at its apex and the Rams – who reached the NCAA Tournament five times during that six-year period – drew raucous crowds. Even afterwards, in-state games with Virginia Tech, Virginia, Old Dominion and others drew 10,000-plus. At the tail end of VCU’s CAA reign, the Rams were a nearly guaranteed sellout. When full (or close), crowd noise reverberated off the building’s metal roof and brick walls to create an intimidating sonic crush. The Rams appeared to enjoy the spoils of the atmosphere. VCU is 273-108 (.717) all-time in the building.

Fans will carry their own memories into Saturday’s match-up. Shaka Smart will be no different. He won his first conference championship as a head coach in 2012 at the Coliseum. The arena was also the site of one of his greatest disappointments.

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