VCU Rams1


Current VCU players and alumni pose prior to Saturday’s Black and Gold Game.

RICHMOND, Va. – Justin Tillman repeatedly dunked at Saturday night’s Black and Gold Game like a man trying to scare the 2015-16 season to life. Mission accomplished.

Tillman provided one of the most powerful performances in VCU’s annual intrasquad scrimmage with 20 points, including six dunks, and 10 rebounds to lead the Black team to an 85-76 win before 5,223 at the Siegel Center.

It can be difficult to assess the value of players’ performances in games like this one, but Tillman dared people to notice with a series of vicious slams. The sophomore forward averaged 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds per game last season, but new VCU Coach Will Wade can probably envision an uptick in Tillman’s numbers if he continues with such high-voltage efforts.

“I thought Tillman was great. He’s been phenomenal in practice,” Wade said. “His activity level was through the roof. He was tremendous, and he’s been that way in practice. He’s been an energy guy, an activity guy and that certainly showed today.”

Tillman’s presence has always been a flashy one, with his tall, dyed afro and his highlight reel dunks.

“He dunks everything, and I love that,” Wade said. “I worry about the backboards in the Development Center sometimes. He dunks everything. I love it, though. He’s a player.”

Tillman should figure prominently in Wade’s rotation, given the departure of Treveon Graham – who garnered the bulk of VCU’s minutes at power forward last season – and the coach’s emphasis on post play. You can expect to see more traditional lineups featuring two post players this season under Wade than in recent years.

Tillman played the 4-spot Saturday alongside center Mo Alie-Cox, and the two combined for 35 points and 18 rebounds. One could certainly imagine Wade pairing those two together down low on a regular basis.

Wade says Tillman added about 15 pounds to his frame during the offseason and the additional bulk should allow the sophomore from Detroit with battle more effectively down low over the course of the season.

“It’s certainly helped him, because you saw. [Robert] Nwanko’s a massive guy,” said Wade. “He did a nice job of hiding on the baseline, getting some stuffs, hit the little floater. He’s a pretty good shooter out to 12-15 feet. I’m happy with Justin. We’ve got to keep his weight up to play at his best.”

Tillman wasn’t the only Ram to impress. Sophomore Michael Gilmore, who will also compete for minutes at power forward, provided an efficient 13-point, 6-rebound effort.

Wade has raved about Gilmore seemingly since the moment he first sat in the VCU coaches’ chair, but the Jacksonville native backed up his coach’s faith in him.

Gilmore hit a smooth turnaround jumper in the lane early in the contest. A short time later he caught the ball at the 3-point line and pump-faked as a leaping JeQuan Lewis flew by. Gilmore quickly reset and buried a 3-pointer. Gilmore, who flashed his sweet shooting stroke on occasion last season, later buried another trey from the right corner.

Like many freshman, Gilmore appeared the struggle with the speed of the college game at times last season. But on Saturday, he was composed and in control.

“I think he’s got some confidence in himself. He knows we believe in him. I think that’s really, really helped him, the same with Tillman and some of those other guys,” Wade said. “But Gilmore’s going to be a good player. It was good to see him play well under the lights in front of a good crowd.”

Senior transfer Korey Billbury is expected to shoulder a good portion of the scoring load and leadership vacated by Graham. He appears to be off to a good start.

Billbury, who enjoyed three solid seasons at Oral Roberts, scored 14 points, including 12 in the first half. The 6-foot-4 guard displayed a willingness to drive to the rim and the ability to finish in traffic, and he also knocked down a pair of 3-pointers. He was 5-of-9 from the field overall and recorded six rebounds and three steals.

“He was today what he has been in practice,” said Wade. “He’s a physical driver. I think he knocked own a three today, which he’s gotten much better at. That’s one of the things we said when we recruited him. [We told him] ‘you’re going to have to shoot it better from the foul line and shoot it better from three’, and he’s been working really hard, really diligently to do that, and I think that showed today.”

Billbury averaged 14.4 points per game last season for the Golden Eagles.

Each of VCU’s newcomers provided something positive to talk about, as well as some “coachable” moments.

Freshman guard Samir Doughty was an interesting case. He opened the game 0-of-7 from the field, but settled down to score 11 points. He was 5-of-20 from the field overall for the Gold team.

Doughty missed all six of his 3-point attempts, but displayed playmaking ability in the open floor and was able to finish at the rim in traffic. Wade says the Rams mixed up their defenses Saturday, but when the Gold team pressed, Doughty was often disruptive. He recorded five steals in the game.

Wade says nerves may have gotten the best of the Philadelphia rookie early in the game.

“Samir’s a really good scorer. You can see he’s going to get his clips up when he’s in there. He’s not going to leave any in the chamber,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do in practice to simulate 5,000 people in the arena, the band, that sort of thing, so to see him perform well under the lights was nice.”

Senior Melvin Johnson led all scorers with 24 points. He knocked down 3-of-6 from 3-point range… Mo Alie-Cox added 15 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocked shots for the Black team… Doug Brooks led the Gold team with 16 points and hit 3-of-4 from three… Lewis attempted just two field goals all game, but did hand out 10 assists… Wade says free throw shooting has been an area of emphasis in practice. The Rams were a combined 24-of-29 (83 percent) in the game. VCU shot 66 percent from the line last season… VCU players were presented with their Atlantic 10 Championship rings during a pregame ceremony… Larry Sanders, Joey Rodriguez, Rob Brandenberg and Kendrick Warren were among those who participated in a VCU Alumni Game following the Black and Gold Gold.