RICHMOND, Va. – It’s not easy being a VCU point guard.
The Rams have had a pretty good run of them the last decade. Guys like Dom Jones, Eric Maynor, Joey Rodriguez and even B.A. Walker for a period. All of them were All-CAA caliber, some of them even better than that.
Junior Darius Theus has been asked to fill big shoes this season. He’s the next generation of VCU’s marquee position. On Thursday, he looked like a chip off the old block.
Theus scored the game-winning layup with 9.8 seconds left in overtime and hit a critical 3-pointer near the end of regulation to lift the Rams to a 69-68 win over William & Mary. In doing so, he managed to outshine a monster night by sophomore forward Juvonte Reddic, who finished with 28 points, 6 rebounds and 6 steals.
“He’s one of our leaders on the team,” said Reddic of Theus. “Everybody knows he’s capable of making big plays and he made a couple big plays tonight, and he proved that he’s a leader.”
He didn’t fill the box score like Reddic, but Theus had the two biggest buckets of the game and finished with 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. On a night when the Rams couldn’t throw the ball into the ocean from the beach, Theus provided a lifeline.
With 1:07 remaining in regulation, Theus rattled home a 3-pointer to give VCU a 59-58 lead. Prior to that shot, Theus had been 2-of-17 from 3-point range since Dec. 9. He never hesitated. Theus actually scored the Rams’ final six points in regulation, including a game-tying free throw with 20 seconds left.
For a moment, it looked like Theus might be the goat. He missed three critical free throws down the stretch in regulation, including a pair with 2:19 left and VCU trailing 56-55. Instead of wilting under the pressure of those missteps, Theus thrived.
“He’s become our leader and that’s what you need at the point guard spot,” Smart said. “I’m not surprised that he was able to make that play at the end. He’s very hard on himself for missing some of those free throws, but he came back and made some big plays late.”
Reddic scorched William & Mary in the first half with 18 points and 6 steals. But in the second the Tribe double-teamed the post and forced the Rams outside. The strategy worked because VCU’s outside shot is on sabbatical. The Rams were 2-of-22 from 3-point range Thursday and haven’t shot better than 40 percent in a game in more than two weeks. That left Theus to create plays in the waning moments for VCU, and he responded in spectacular fashion.
Theus’ final stroke of genius came with 20 seconds left. Trailing 68-67, the Rams ran a high double screen and roll with Theus and Reddic. Shaka Smart was banking on William & Mary switching on the play so that a forward would have to guard Theus. He was right, and Theus drove right, spun left and laid the ball in with his left hand. William & Mary’s Marcus Thornton missed a 15-foot jumper with time winding down and the Rams held on for the victory.
“They switched and I had a big man on me, and coach just told me to go, and he has confidence in me to make that play and I just made a move and finished,” Theus said.
Thursday’s clutch performance is another feather in the cap for Theus, who backed up Rodriguez last year. Theus may not break any records. He may never win an All-CAA award, but he’s certainly not going to run away from a moment.
Theus won’t wow you with his pedestrian scoring average (8.5 ppg). He doesn’t shoot it like Rodriguez, he doesn’t create with the efficiency of Maynor (honestly, who does?), but what he does have that his predecessors possessed, is a sense of timing and a total lack of fear.