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Senior forward Justin Tillman has scored 41 points in 41 minutes this season.

By Andy Lohman

RICHMOND, Va. – VCU’s 95-85 win over North Florida on Monday night was, frankly, exhausting.

The Rams brought their patented press, scoring 23 points off 16 Osprey turnovers. UNF ripped 17 made three pointers. The entire game was played at 100 miles per hour, both teams sprinting the floor for 40 minutes, and it resulted in an NBA scoreline.

To win in a game like that, one that’s played at a pace that could break the sound barrier, you have to be relentless. On Monday night, VCU was relentless, and it started with the play of senior forward Justin Tillman.

“They’re really, really good at being relentless for 40 minutes,” UNF Head Coach Matt Driscoll said of VCU’s drive.

Tillman scored a career-high 27 points, and tied for a team high with eight rebounds. And he did it all in just 24 minutes on the floor.

“Even though we win, we should come out every game hungry,” Tillman said.

By the first media timeout four minutes into the game, Tillman collected 12 points and had the sellout crowd at EJ Wade Arena at the Siegel Center chanting his name. He started the contest by knocking down two lay-ups and a turnaround jumper, and rejecting a UNF shot out of bounds.

In a tightly-contested first half, Tillman got the crowd on its feet again with a thunderous alley-oop from senior guard Johnny Williams to give the Rams a 25-24 lead.

By halftime he was 9-for-9 from the floor with 18 points.

He missed his first field goal attempt of the second half, a short jumper that rimmed out. He followed it up by knocking down his first 3-pointer of the evening on the next possession, showcasing his versatility.

“He can make threes, he can put the ball on the floor, he can draw fouls, and he’s relentless going after the basketball, which, that’s a talent,” VCU Head Coach Mike Rhoades said. “Coaches want all their players to go after the ball, and then there’s some guys it’s just innate. It’s in their DNA to go after everything.”

Already the program leader in career field goal percentage, Tillman is shooting 73.9 percent from the floor this season. That efficiency is crucial for a player still working his way back from a lingering foot injury. In just 17 minutes against Grambling State, he poured in a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds. Against UNF, he had more points than minutes played.

The 6-foot-8, 220-pound frame was too much for the frontcourt of UNF to handle. He was able to use his athleticism to get good looks down low. When the Ospreys managed to get in front, Tillman was there to hit a turnaround jumper over the defender.

“They were playing a 1-3-1 and weren’t doubling down in the post, so we wanted to take advantage of that,” Tillman said.

The afro-sporting big man wasn’t the only Ram with success down low. Khris Lane, Sean Mobley, and Marcus Santos-Silva were all able to get big baskets, giving VCU a 56-30 advantage in points in the paint.

While VCU was relentless, UNF was ruthlessly efficient. The Ospreys’ three-point shooting pushed their effective field goal percentage to 52.6 percent, despite only shooting 41.6 percent from the floor.

But against the speed of play, and the efficiency of UNF, Tillman’s relentlessness shone through. His Player Efficiency Rating for Monday night was 34, over double the metric’s benchmark for an average night.

As the young Rams grow together, and turn to the meat of their non-conference schedule, they will look to Tillman to continue to be the efficient difference-maker.

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