RICHMOND, Va. – If I told you that Bradford Burgess would play 19 minutes and score a grand total of two points in Saturday’s critical game with Old Dominion, would you like VCU’s chances? What if I said that Darius Theus would hand out zero assists or that Juvonte Reddic would score six points?
I imagine if you were a VCU fan, you’d be pretty uneasy with the prospect of some of the Rams’ linchpins struggling in key areas. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t expect VCU to coast to a 61-48 win.
VCU (15-5, 6-2 CAA) showed it has some substance Saturday night before the 13th straight sellout at the Verizon Wireless Arena. The Rams proved that while this is Burgess’ team, he doesn’t have to go it alone.
With Burgess on the bench for large swaths of both halves in foul trouble, the Rams still managed to pull away from the Monarchs (11-9, 6-2 CAA). Troy Daniels, 1-of-6 from the field in the first half, buried three straight 3-pointers midway through the second to give VCU a commanding 49-35 lead and put Old Dominion on the ropes.
There were contributions from nearly everywhere. Theus scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half. The Rams grabbed 14 offensive rebounds, 10 of them after halftime. Reddic blocked four shots and grabbed 9 rebounds. Freshman Treveon Graham stepped in for Burgess with 5 points and 7 rebounds. Rookie Briante Weber ripped four steals.
It was the epitome of a team win. It wasn’t so much one player putting the team on his back, as it was the system that spurred the Rams to victory. It was “Havoc” that forced ODU into a season-high 25 turnovers, including seven by CAA Preseason Player of the Year Kent Bazemore.
“Anybody on the team can step up at any time,” said Weber, who added 7 points and 3 assists. “We have two leaders on the court in Darius and Brad, but at any given time anybody can step up. We have a great team.”
The Rams even got solid minutes from little-used walk-on David Hinton. Hinton checked into the game late in the first half and promptly helped cut off a driving Monarch, then tipped the ball away for a steal. He also matched up well against Old Dominion’s rugged frontcourt.
Burgess picked up his second foul with 9:05 remaining in the first half and spent the remainder of the period on the bench. VCU trailed 14-13 at the time, but used 3-pointers by Theus, Graham and Rob Brandenberg to fuel a 19-9 run.
In the second half, Burgess had the ball in transition when he plowed through an Old Dominion defender on VCU’s first possession to draw his third foul. With 19:32 left in the game, he returned to the bench. Again, instead of fading without its best player, VCU forged ahead. By the time Burgess returned to the game with 8:55 left, the Rams were sitting on a 49-39 advantage.
“It says the young guys are growing up,” said VCU Coach Shaka Smart. “They’re playing better and better. They’re getting used to stepping up and asserting themselves. Brad’s still our best player. He’s just been in foul trouble the last couple of games and it’s hard to get in a rhythm when you’re not on the court for an extended period of time, but I’m proud of the way Tre stepped in for him and other guys stepped up and made plays.”
Perhaps earlier in the season the Rams don’t get this win. VCU relies heavily on players who were either in high school this time last year or resided primarily on the bench. But 20 games into the season, the Rams are starting to look seasoned. Daniels was 2-of-9 from the floor when he finally broke loose. Rather than let frustration set in, he stayed the course until the floodgates opened.
“Coach tells us we need 13 people every game,” Hinton said. “Whenever your number’s called you’ve got to step up. When somebody’s down you’ve got to help them up.”
The Rams know they’ll need a big game out of Burgess at some point, and they’re sure he’ll regain his shooting stroke. Until then, they feel confident they can hold the line.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in Bradford and he’s going to get on a roll real soon, and when I say real soon, I mean real soon,” Theus said. “He’s got the confidence in us to step up and make plays just like we have in him, so we’re not worried about that at all.”