RICHMOND, Va. – If Saturday night’s 84-57 win over George Washington is any indication, VCU is ready for its stretch run. It was the Rams’ final game before a pressure-packed five-bout gauntlet to close out the regular season, and VCU looked a lot like the team that was blowing opponents off the Siegel Center floor earlier this year.
It was a perfect storm for VCU (21-5, 9-2 A-10), really. It was Havoc meets the Peach Fuzz Boys. The Rams’ relentless defensive pressure, combined with George Washington’s inexperience, gestated into 25 Colonials’ turnovers. VCU was more than happy to trade those miscues in for 27 points, an advantage that proved insurmountable.
George Washington, in the second year of Mike Lonergan’s rebuilding project, started four freshmen Saturday night. Those four rookies combined for 17 turnovers, including eight from Joe McDonald. After that, there were few stats that mattered. The pace and tone of the game were squarely in VCU’s favor, and from there, it was a day at the races.
Junior Juvonte Reddic found open space all evening and made his first seven field goal attempts, five of them highlight-quality dunks. On the Rams’ first offensive possession of the game, Reddic used a back screen to get free and caught a high-arching lob from Darius Theus with his right hand and threw it down for a thunderous slam. It was a play that set the tone for night.
“We knew that the back screen was going to get me open on the lob, we practiced that in practice, and the first play of the game it worked and I threw it down with one hand and it got the crowd hyped, it got my team hyped and we just had the momentum,” Reddic said. “It created a great atmosphere and made it hard for our opponents to play their game.”
Reddic finished with a game-high 24 points on 11-of-13 shooting and collected 10 rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
The Rams did mostly as they pleased on offense all night. They were loose, efficient and looked like they were having a ball.
With VCU greats Eric Maynor and Larry Sanders watching from courtside, the Rams played inspired. While Reddic was channeling Sanders’ dunking ways, freshman Melvin Johnson showed off the best floater since Maynor used his on the way to a school-record 1,953 points from 2005-09. Johnson sank three signature teardrops and finished with 11 points.
Although Johnson wasn’t around for Maynor’s reign, he’s aware of the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard’s legend at the Siegel Center.
“Today, [Maynor] actually condoned it,” Johnson said of his flurry of floaters, which he hit just feet from Maynor’s courtside seat. “He said, ‘one more time.’ The last one, I looked at him and he was excited.”
Even Troy Daniels got into the fun. With 8:13 remaining, the senior 3-point specialist stole a ball at midcourt and took it to the rack for a left-handed slam, likely the first career dunk for a guy better known for his work from 21 feet away from the hoop.
“Yes, I had to get a dunk before I leave,” Daniels joked afterwards. “I’m not going to count that as a dunk. It kind of slipped out of my hand.”
VCU shot 53 percent (32-of-60) for the evening, including 8-of-17 from three. If not for 16 of their own turnovers, the Rams surely would have run away from George Washington by more than 27. With the most important stretch of the season on the horizon, VCU put together back-to-back wins this week against UMass and George Washington by average of 22.5 points.
What lies ahead next for VCU is stage one of a five-round donnybrook that will decide the Atlantic 10 Conference regular season champion and could determine their NCAA Tournament fate. On Tuesday, VCU will travel to white-hot Saint Louis (19-5, 8-2). The Billikens, a half game behind the Rams for first in the A-10, have won seven straight, most of them decisively.
“It’s a fight for first,” Daniels said, his tone turning serious. “That’s all we know right now. We’re going to prepare for them tomorrow and Monday and go from there. We know they’re a great team and they have a lot of fans and great fans in Saint Louis, so we have to be ready to play, be ready to be road warriors.”
Games at Xavier and Temple, as well as home dates with rival Richmond and 11th-ranked Butler also await VCU in the final weeks of the regular season. All five of VCU’s remaining opponents are ranked in the top 90 in RPI.
It’s going to test the Rams’ mettle, but the road ahead didn’t seem to weigh on VCU Saturday night. The Rams looked ready for a fight.