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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REDDIC AND THE RANGE OF EMOTION

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Juvonte Reddic turned in his fourth double-double in his last six games Sunday.

Juvonte Reddic turned in his fourth double-double in his last six games Sunday.

RICHMOND, Va. – Before Sunday’s game, Juvonte Reddic worked on Power Poses. During the game, he struck a pose of dominance and lifted VCU to a 69-48 victory over Old Dominion at the Verizon Wireless Arena.

Reddic, cashing in on a game plan geared to exploit VCU’s size advantage over the Monarchs (just two ODU regulars stand as tall as 6-foot-7), delivered season highs of 24 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. Reddic used a series of post moves, baby hooks, dunks and putbacks on the way to an efficient 12-of-16 shooting performance. He was just four points shy of his career high.

Behind Reddic, VCU outrebounded Old Dominion 50-35 and grabbed 27 offensive rebounds. Five or Reddic’s caroms came on the offensive end, and VCU outscored ODU 30-9 in second-chance points.

While Sunday’s effort was Reddic’s best of the season to date, it was just the most recent in a series of good games for the 6-foot-9 forward of late. In his last six games, Reddic has produced four double-doubles and five double-digit rebounding games. In those six games, he’s averaging 15.0 points, 9.3 rebounds and shooting .574 (39-of-68) from the field. It’s a dramatic shift from the beginning of the season, when Reddic averaged 10.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and recorded no double-doubles in the first four games.

The difference Reddic says, is in his mental and emotional state. He’s more plugged in now, and it’s paying off.

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RAMS GET GRITTY IN RETURN TO WIN COLUMN

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Treveon Graham led VCU with 24 points Friday.

Treveon Graham led VCU with 24 points Friday.

RICHMOND, Va. – On the busiest shopping day of the year, VCU made sure to stop by the Siegel Center to pick up an important victory. Like Big Hugs Elmo dolls, they are in demand, and require a certain level of grit, persistence and focus to procure one; Although the eye-gouging was left to the Target parking lot squabbles.

There’s no such thing as a “must-win” game in November, but there are the kind that you’d really like to have, and even the kind you probably really need. VCU’s 79-66 win over Northeastern Friday at the Verizon Wireless Arena is likely some combination of both.

VCU, coming off a 1-2 trip to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off last week, which including a stinging blowout loss to Florida State and a frustratingly just-out-of-reach setback to Georgetown, came home looking to get well. The Rams were trying to do so against a Northeastern team that has traditionally been a tough out for VCU…and had just beaten Georgetown…and played Florida State to the wire…and VCU was without two of its top eight players in Jordan Burgess (knee sprain) and Terrance Shannon (family matter).

This would not be a Black Friday giveaway. If the Rams were going to put Puerto Rico in their rearview mirror, they were going to have to earn it in the claw-your-way-past-Wal-Mart-shoppers way.

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VIDEO: NORTHEASTERN HIGHLIGHTS AND POSTGAME

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HIGHLIGHTS

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SHAKA SMART PRESSER

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VCU PLAYER PRESSER

MO WAS MONEY…AND OTHER NOTES

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Freshman Mo Alie-Cox sparked VCU with 10 points and six rebounds Saturday.

Freshman Mo Alie-Cox sparked VCU with 10 points and six rebounds Saturday.

RICHMOND, Va. – Sorry, Mo Alie-Cox, we didn’t know any better.

Generally, whenever a power forward or center finds himself on an island beyond the 3-point arc, the audience treats it like a stunt from Jackass. They egg the big guy on until he agrees and lets the shot fly, then they gasp in horror. And much like the guy who rides down a steep hill in a shopping cart while on fire, the audience goes nuts when he sticks the landing.

It continues this way until the audience is convinced that this isn’t just a parlor trick, that it’s an actual feature of the player’s game. There are a lot more Chris Kamans in the world than Arvydas Sabonises, so it takes longer for the big guys to gain the public’s trust.

So when Alie-Cox, a chiseled, 6-foot-6, 250-pound power forward, found himself marooned with the ball atop the 3-point line with 14 minutes remaining in a six-point game Saturday night, he was met with the usual roar of curious encouragement. Calmly, Alie-Cox sized up the shot and buried it.

“That’s been a shot I’ve been working on all summer. Coach told me, if I’m wide open, shoot it. Or if I’m not, just go ahead and reverse it. They left me wide open, so I just hoisted up the shot and it went in,” Alie-Cox said afterwards.

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RAM SEEKS NEW ENDING FOR OLD STORY

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Florida State transfer Terrance Shannon scored 14 points in his VCU debut versus Illinois State.

Florida State transfer Terrance Shannon scored 14 points in his VCU debut versus Illinois State.

RICHMOND, Va. – Although Terrance Shannon shared the Alamodome court with Rob Brandenberg and Juvonte Reddic that night in San Antonio, he does not share their cheerful recollection of the evening’s events.

It was March 25, 2011. Brandenberg and Reddic were freshmen on a VCU team in the midst of one of the NCAA Tournament’s most memorable Cinderella romps to the Final Four. Shannon, meanwhile, was on the opposing sideline of that Sweet 16 matchup as a member of a favored Florida State team. Those final moments are permanently pressed into the psyches of all three players; the Joey Rodriguez-to-Bradford Burgess inbounds play for the winning score in overtime, the Brandenberg blocked shot at the final horn that clinched a 72-71 VCU win and set Rams’ play-by-play broadcaster Robby Robinson on hyperbolic repeat.

Although it was nearly three years ago, Shannon hasn’t shaken the feeling.

“Here I don’t talk much about it because still to this day, I get mad every time I see a Final Four shirt or the picture of the 72-71 score in the coaches’ office,” he says through a disarming grin.

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VIDEO: VCU ROUTS ILLINOIS STATE

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VCU-ILLINOIS STATE HIGHLIGHTS

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POSTGAME: VCU PLAYERS (Terrance Shannon, Briante Weber, Juvonte Reddic)

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POSTGAME: Shaka Smart

ROUT DELIVERED WITHOUT VICTORY LAP

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VCU junior Treveon Graham supplied 14 points and six rebounds in VCU's season-opening victory.

VCU junior Treveon Graham supplied 14 points and six rebounds in VCU’s season-opening victory.

RICHMOND, Va. – Shaka Smart blew into his postgame press conference like the cool November breeze. He was, as always, polite, but curt. He was also direct. When asked if any of his players had turned in an “exceptional” performance Friday night, he barely entertained the thought.

“No,” he said, flatly.

He didn’t look like a guy who just watched his team open its season by thrashing Illinois State 96-58. He wasn’t so much upset as he was unsatisfied. He wasn’t angry, just pragmatic. Not that Smart would ever accept the first game of the season as anything but the maiden voyage of a five-month odyssey, but things have clearly changed. The Rams are the 14th-ranked team in the country. Smart’s personal Overton Window has shifted in step with the momentum of the program. His tone acknowledged that there was no value in a victory lap in November, especially not for a team with this kind of potential.

“It was our first game and the guys did a lot of good things, but we obviously have a lot to get better at,” Smart said.

It wasn’t obvious to everybody. A few minutes earlier, beleaguered Illinois State Coach Dan Muller capped his press conference by telling the assembled media: “Thanks guys. Sorry the game was so bad.”

To put that in perspective, after watching his squad get throttled for 40 minutes by the 14th-ranked team in the country, Muller felt compelled to apologize for the beating that he’d just received.

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CALIFORNIA (PA.) EXHIBITION NOTEBOOK

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Despite the offseason chatter, fouls slid into the background of VCU's 92-54 win.

Despite a lot of offseason chatter fouls slid into the background of VCU’s 92-54 win.

BOX SCORE

RICHMOND, Va. – It’s a bit of a fishing expedition to find a reasonable narrative in these mismatched Division I-Division II exhibition games.  There’s a desire to look at the scoreboard, which showed that VCU earned a 92-54 win over California (Pa.) Saturday night, and extrapolate 100 superlatives from the wreckage of the box score. More often than not, it’s fool’s gold.

But Saturday, even as I waded through some impressive, if not gaudy, statistics, I was still struck by the depth of talent on this VCU team. If Shaka Smart truly desires a 10 or 11-man rotation, it sure looks like he’s got the horses to do it.

Smart essentially rotated 11 players in the first half and 10 in the second after Rob Brandenberg exited with back spasms. While there were moments of youthful frustration, there was hardly a dramatic drop-off in ability.

Freshman Doug Brooks led VCU in scoring with 14 points in 13 minutes of play. For most of those 13 minutes, he looked like Briante Weber with a better jumper and a disinterested barber.

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MEN’S HOOPS PRESSER (OCT. 31)

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It’s not spooky or Halloween-themed or anything. It’s just a press conference. But it’s fun anyway. Terrance Shannon, Rob Brandenberg and Juvonte Reddic address the media prior to VCU’s Nov. 2 exhibition game with California (Pa.).

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