RANDOM NOTES: FORDHAM

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RICHMOND, Va. – It wasn’t a work of art, but it was a win. VCU turned Fordham over 18 times and held the Bronx-based Rams to 37 percent shooting on the way to a 76-60 win. It was VCU’s fourth straight victory and eighth in the last nine games. Here are some tidbits from the victory.

INJURY UPDATES
VCU junior and leading scorer left the game early in the second half with an apparent injury and did not return. He retreated to the training room for a period of time, but reappeared midway through the period and sat on VCU’s bench for the remainder of the game. He scored nine points in 15 minutes and was limping noticeably on his left leg.

Coach Shaka Smart says he believes Graham has a sprained toe, but stopped short of offering a timeline for his return.

“He’ll be getting as much treatment as possible, and I can’t tell you exactly when he’ll be back, but I’d guess it will be soon.”

Graham is averaging 15.7 points per game this season.  VCU returns to action on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Siegel Center against Richmond.

Meanwhile, senior forward Terrance Shannon (sprained knee) did not play for a third straight game, although he was in uniform.

“He’s good,” Smart said. “His knee’s not all the way back yet, but he’s making progress. He’s done some things in practice. He’s not been 100 percent full-go in practice yet, but I anticipate hopefully he’ll be back, full-go soon.”

Shannon is averaging 3.9 points and 2.8 rebounds per game this season.

TIDBITS
VCU shot .338 in the win (22-of-65). It’s the Rams lowest shooting percentage in a victory since shooting .328 (21-of-64) in a 63-57 win over St. Francis (Pa.) on Nov. 11, 2011. VCU is 4-4 when shooting less than 40 percent this season… Briante Weber grabbed four steals to move within two of tying Rolando Lamb’s school record of 257, established in 1985…The game marked VCU’s 45th straight sellout at the Siegel Center… VCU’s 17-4 start is the best of Shaka Smart’s five-year tenure and the Rams’ best since 2007… After opening the season 1-of-14 from 3-point range, Weber is 6-of-16 (38 percent) in VCU’s last five games.

SMART A POWER PLANT FOR VCU SUCCESS

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Shaka Smart does not lack for enthusiasm on the VCU sideline.

Shaka Smart does not lack for enthusiasm on the VCU sideline.

RICHMOND, Va. – If you’re not a VCU fan, or if you watched Shaka Smart careen around the Reliant Stadium court at the Final Four in 2011 during the “Iron Man” drill, maybe you were skeptical. Seriously, what college basketball coach comports himself in a way that requires a helmet and possibly elbow pads?

Sure, Smart was young (he’s still 36), and he espouses the value of enthusiasm, but what coach is so invested in a system that he actually becomes a part of it? If you ever wondered If Smart’s demonstration at VCU’s Final Four open practice was a sincere expression of his belief in his system, you should have your answer by now.

Thursday’s 71-57 win over George Mason was just the most recent example of Smart’s investment in Havoc, and his role as the emotional mechanism that ignites the engine.

When you cover a beat for long enough, you come to understand the lexicon, the language and ideas that show up on a daily basis. For Smart, much of what he says and does is somehow related to expressions of energy, enthusiasm and appreciation. Smart often talks about players as “energy givers” or “energy takers”. He views energy as contagious, like a benign form of the mob mentality. It starts at the top, and it’s possible that nobody is more of an energy giver than Smart.

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A WHOLE LOT OF AWESOME…AND A BASKETBALL GAME

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Thursday night, VCU welcomed George Mason to the Atlantic 10 Conference essentially the same way the Rams said farewell (although they didn’t know it at the time) to them in the CAA in 2012: with a Havoc-heavy double-digit win. In front of a raucous, “Check the Stu” legion of VCU fans – the 43rd straight sellout at the Siegel Center – VCU beat the Patriots 71-57.

It was a night where I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the bouillabaisse of terrific happenings on and off the court. First and foremost, the “Check the Stu” promotion. Much like last year’s “Stripe the Stu”, this was outstanding. Frankly, it’s intimidating to look up in the stands and see 7,700 black and gold shirts bearing down on you. Love how big-time that looks on TV too.

As if that wasn’t enough, the game featured possibly the best Briante Weber steal you’ll ever see, a thunderous Terrance Shannon tip dunk, a Shaka Smart chestbump (of Shannon) and a space kitten. Let’s recap!

#CHECKTHESTU
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This picture doesn't necessarily do it justice, but it's the only arena shot at have right now.

This picture doesn’t necessarily do it justice, but it’s the only arena shot at have right now.

#BRIFENSE
With about 47 seconds left in the game and VCU up double-digits, George Mason attempted to roll the ball in – an attempt to advance the ball without running clock. Bad idea. Briante Weber, who just flat-out never downshifts, came sliding in for one of the best steals you’ll see. Ever. Seriously.

EDIT: Slide gif now available.
weberslide

Weber finished with 12 points and added a total of five steals to move into sole possession of second place one the program’s career list.

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RAMS ICE SBU, LOOK PRIMED FOR A-10 PLAY

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Senior Juvonte Reddic provided 11 points in VCU's non-conference finale Friday.

Senior Juvonte Reddic provided 11 points in VCU’s non-conference finale Friday.

RICHMOND, Va. – The Stony Brook basketball team got the jump on snowstorm Hercules by taking the team bus to Richmond early Thursday morning. In the process, the Seawolves escaped howling winds, frigid temperatures and five inches of snow. But what Stony Brook walked into at the Verizon Wireless Arena VCU Friday night was possibly much worse.

Instead of Old Man Winter, Stony Brook got Shaka Smart and a raging Havoc storm front that removed all doubt early in the second half and handed the Seawolves an 81-63 defeat. Instead of Jack Frost, there was Briante Weber coolly directing a VCU team that appears to be rounding into form.

Perhaps it would have been better for Stony Brook to take a snow day.

After a Weber leaner at the first half buzzer gave the Rams a 36-35 lead, the Rams erupted with a 15-0 blitz out of the lockerroom – the type of dizzying run for which VCU has become known – and never looked back on the way to their fourth straight win. It was also the fourth consecutive game in which VCU swept in like a cold front and iced the opposing team’s offense.

The Seawolves may have caught the Rams at the worst possible time. After stinging losses to Florida State and Georgetown earlier this year, the Rams have won eight of nine to close conference play.

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VCU-EASTERN KENTUCKY NOTEBOOK

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Freshman JeQuan Lewis scored 13 points Thursday in VCU's 71-68 victory.

Freshman JeQuan Lewis scored 13 points Thursday in VCU’s 71-68 victory.

RICHMOND, Va. – As pure entertainment, VCU’s 71-68 overtime win over Eastern Kentucky Thursday at the Verizon Wireless Arena was terrific. There was practically March intensity in an early December game, the score was close, it was, for the most part, well-played, and the pace was often dizzying.

But Rams’ Coach Shaka Smart can invest very little emotionally in the basketball on the floor as a consumable product. As a coach, he’s got to be more clinical. For Smart, there’s likely more value in the victory as a progress report of sorts.

On that level, there was much for him to see. Some things, he’ll like, others, he won’t. But for the second straight game, his team provided a window through which to view how good it could be. On the other hand, Smart knows the Rams have plenty of work to do.

While the fans and media were bullish on VCU from day one, Smart has never sold the Rams as being a finished project. Sure, he’d like them to be, and Smart wants the Rams to be as good – and even better – as that top 10 ranking they once held, but we live in a world of college basketball where North Carolina can lose to UAB and then beat top-ranked Michigan State. The game is unpredictable, and teams don’t always realize their potential when coaches want. VCU certainly has moments of greatness. Capturing it and honing it is a skill in and of itself.

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SHANNON EYES ‘WEIRD’ BATTLE WITH FSU

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VCU senior Terrance Shannon averaged 5.2 points and 3.3 rebounds at Florida State from 2009-2013. On Thursday, he'll play against his former team.

VCU senior Terrance Shannon prepares to face his former Florida State teammates Thursday in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

RICHMOND, Va. – There are a number of holdovers from VCU’s 2011 NCAA Tournament victory over Florida State on this year’s team, including Coach Shaka Smart, Associate Head Coach Mike Rhoades, and players Rob Brandenberg and Juvonte Reddic. But none of them will be able to offer the perspective of Terrance Shannon.

When VCU and Florida State meet Thursday at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in San Juan, Shannon will be the only participant to have stood on both sidelines in this “series”. Following a four-year stint in Tallahassee, Shannon transferred to VCU this summer. Shannon played five minutes for the Seminoles in that 72-71 VCU overtime win in San Antonio in 2011.

Ten of Shannon’s teammates return from last season’s 18-16 Florida State squad; ten guys he still calls his “brothers.” The experience, Shannon imagines, will be strange.

“It’s going to be bittersweet,” said Shannon, who averaged 5.2 points and 3.3 rebounds in 72 games for FSU. “I get to see my former team again. I talk to the guys a lot, so the bond is still there. I still look at them as like brothers to me. It’s going to be weird playing against each other, but it’s going to be nice to see them again.”

Shannon says he talks the most with senior forward Okaro White, but that he keeps up with his former teammates as much as he can manage. He says they haven’t really talked about Thursday’s game.

Florida State is 3-0 this season after wins over Jacksonville, Central Florida and Tennessee-Martin. Although the Seminoles were picked ninth in the new 15-team ACC, Shannon believes FSU is going to be a “scary team” this season.

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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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