THIS TRAIN DON’T STOP…

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Treveon Graham's 1,639 points rank sixth on VCU's all-time scoring list.

Treveon Graham’s 1,639 points rank sixth on VCU’s all-time scoring list.

Treveon Graham didn’t need Tuesday night’s 26-point, 8-rebound, 1-leg performance at Rhode Island to validate his legacy. Who did he have left to convince, really? But if there was one game that crystallizes everything we’ve come to understand about Graham and his terrific VCU career, it was his effort to hoist the Rams out of what seemed destined to be a loss and into an unforgettable 65-60 come-from-behind victory.

Graham injured his ankle early in the second half when a Rhode Island player dove into his legs while attempting to track down a loose ball. The 6-foot-5 forward, who left the game for a short time, returned noticeably gimpy. Didn’t matter. Graham scored 16 of his points in the second half — each bucket more important, more unlikely, than the last — to rally VCU from nine points down.

By the final horn, it had become “The Treveon Graham Game”. It’s trivial, these designations we assign, the levels of platitudes, the adoration of a singular spectacular performance that overshadows a legacy built on consistency. Besides, Graham already had a 3-pointer to beat Virginia (The Dagger 2.0) and a 34-point, life-preserver effort at La Salle last year. Was Tuesday’s game any different or any more significant? Who knows, but it sure felt different. Maybe it’s our affection for the dramatic, but it was gutty, a performance both individually dominant and somehow selfless all at the same time.

I hope VCU fans appreciate that guys like Graham are rare (I think they do). It’s one thing to be able to play, it’s another thing to bring it every single night. This is a guy that had two Division I scholarship offers – TWO – and he’s going to be an All-American, assuming the voters have any sense whatsoever.

There’s about half a season left in this freight train’s career. Enjoy the ride.

Tired of listening to me? Here’s what other people thought of Graham’s seminal performance Tuesday at Rhode Island:

A FEW MINUTES WITH JOHN FEINSTEIN

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I was thrilled to recently sit down with one of my favorite authors, John Feinstein (“Season on the Brink”, “The Punch”, “A Good Walk Spoiled”, “Last Amateurs”). John has served as color commentator for a handful of regional VCU Basketball broadcasts this season and knows the program well. Check out our chat, where we discuss plenty of VCU hoops, as well as Bobby Knight, Dean Smith and his next book.

SHAKA SMART MEDIA MINUTES (JAN. 12)

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Shaka Smart speaks on a variety of topics as the Rams get ready to battle Rhode Island.

THIS IS A THING THAT HAPPENED SATURDAY

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Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 11.16.17 AM

VCU held a “Diaper Derby” at halftime of Saturday’s game with Saint Joseph’s. That’s code for “racing babies”. The winner will receive a college scholarship from Virginia 529 and a Rodney the Ram teething ring (probably). In a post-race interview, the victor thanked her sponsors, Beaudreaux’s Butt Paste and Huggies, and says the recent addition of split peas to her diet allowed for a cleaner, more powerful methane fuel mix.

 

VIDEO: RAMS WING HAWKS 89-74, WIN EIGHTH STRAIGHT

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HIGHLIGHTS

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SHAKA SMART

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PHIL MARTELLI

IMPERFECT 150TH WIN A TEACHABLE MOMENT FOR SMART

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Melvin Johnson (far right) led VCU with 20 points Saturday in a win over Saint Joseph's.

Melvin Johnson (far right) led VCU with 20 points Saturday in a win over Saint Joseph’s.

RICHMOND, Va. – Shaka Smart won his 150th game Saturday afternoon. But you may want to hold off on ordering a congratulatory sheet cake with his grinning mug on it. Reading between the lines, it doesn’t sound like this manufactured milestone means much to him.

“Nothing. It says I’ve coached a lot of games,” the sixth-year VCU coach said. “It seems like I just coached my first game. It goes fast, and you learn not to take anything for granted. But I’m appreciative of our guys that we have on our team. I’m appreciative of the guys that I’ve coached on former teams. They’ve won the games. I’ve not scored a basket here or gotten a rebound. Obviously we’ve got a lot of goals in front of us and that’s what we’re focused on.”

That last part is key here. One of the main reasons Smart has won 150 games – and lost just 49 – is because he has a clear idea about what his and his team’s goals are, and a self-congratulatory victory lap in early January ain’t it.

VCU thumped defending Atlantic 10 Conference champion Saint Joseph’s for most of Saturday’s contest at the Verizon Wireless Arena. The final score, 89-74, doesn’t tell you that VCU led by 27 with 12 minutes to go or that no Rams starter needed to play more than 23 minutes. Melvin Johnson shot the lights out (7-of-8) and finished with 20 points, while Treveon Graham was, well, Treveon Graham. He added 19 economic points.

Most people wouldn’t think twice if Smart wanted to pat the team on the back and chalk up an eighth straight victory; heck, maybe even take the squad out for ice cream sandwiches. The Rams (13-3, 3-0 A-10) entered Saturday’s game ranked 20th in the country and are one of three teams unbeaten in league play.

Those people don’t know Shaka Smart very well.

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A HUNT FOR EXCELLENCE

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Dr. Eugene Hunt's association with VCU and RPI spanned seven decades.

Dr. Eugene Hunt’s association with VCU and RPI spanned seven decades.

This year, even as his health betrayed him, Dr. Gene Hunt was a presence at VCU games. Hunt filled his 81 years to the brim with life, love and memories through lasting friendships, far-flung travels and rich experiences, and he wasn’t going to let an act as trivial as changing an oxygen tank at halftime stop him.

Hunt, an ardent but gentle presence in the VCU community for five decades (and RPI before that) was laid to rest last week. Since its inception in 1968, there has been no greater champion of VCU than Hunt.

Rare were the times when Dr. Hunt wasn’t draped in black and gold, wearing an impossibly warm grin, his kind features framed by his white Abraham Lincoln beard, with his lovely wife Honey by his side.

There were times I felt like I saw Gene and Honey more than my wife, because they were everywhere. They attended volleyball matches, men’s basketball games, women’s basketball games – it didn’t matter. They drove to road games even as they approached their 80s. When they couldn’t drive themselves anymore, someone else gladly would.

I was in my first year at VCU in 2005 when I met the Hunts for the first time at the Jeff Capel Coaches Show. It was a VCU event on a day ending in ‘Y’, so naturally they wouldn’t miss it. My wife and I talked with the ever-approachable couple and were struck by their inviting personalities and buoyant enthusiasm. After more than 50 years together, they still doted on one another. Recently married, we marveled at them.

“They were a package deal,” said Gordon McDougall, VCU Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations. “If you’re in a relationship, you hope that when you’re at that stage of your life you have the love and respect for each other that they did.”

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RAMS SHOWCASE MATURING DEFENSE IN WIN OVER DAVIDSON

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VCU opponents are shooting just .370 in the last six games. The Rams limited Davidson to a season-low 65 points Wednesday.

VCU opponents are shooting just .370 in the last six games. The Rams limited Davidson to a season-low 65 points Wednesday.

RICHMOND, Va. – It’s been happening somewhat quietly for the last couple of weeks, but on Wednesday, you could no longer deny VCU’s defensive maturation.

Faced with a Davidson offense that ranked sixth nationally in adjusted efficiency, VCU (12-3, 2-0 A-10) flexed its defensive muscle to earn a hard-fought, 71-65 win over Davidson at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.

Despite its place on the schedule – the second game on each team’s Atlantic 10 slate – it was a contest that ached of postseason intensity and hinted at a possible juicy battle deep in the league’s tournament field in March.

On paper, the game looked like it would be a track meet between a pair of tempo-friendly systems. Davidson (10-3, 1-1 A-10) entered the game averaging nearly 86 points per game, while VCU is known for its free-wheeling open-court play. Instead, short, frenetic bursts of frenetic offense often gave way to half court, meat-grinder basketball.

VCU’s vaunted Havoc defense, a bit of a puzzle in the early parts of the Rams’ non-conference schedule, put the brakes on Davidson’s high-octane attack. VCU held the Wildcats to a season-low 65 points and 37 percent (22-of-59) shooting. The Wildcats began the second half 2-of-16 from the field as the Rams opened a 13-point lead. Davidson shot just 39 percent from inside the 3-point arc and turned the ball over 15 times, its second-highest total of the season.

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VIDEO: RAMS HALT DAVIDSON 71-65

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HIGHLIGHTS

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B.A. WALKER HALF COURT THREE
Former Ram B.A. Walker buries a half court 3-pointer prior to the game to win everybody in attendance free Papa John’s.

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SHAKA SMART

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BOB MCKILLOP

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VCU PLAYERS

BURGESS FINDS SURE FOOTING

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Sophomore Jordan Burgess is shooting 49 percent from the field this season while averaging 7.5 points per game.

Sophomore Jordan Burgess is shooting 49 percent from the field this season while averaging 7.5 points per game.

Editor’s note: Jordan Burgess is currently listed as day-to-day with an ankle injury.

For the first time in a while, Jordan Burgess feels like his has his legs under him.

Both literally and figuratively, Burgess spent his freshman year in search of sure footing. While the 6-foot-5 Midlothian, Virginia native was a starter and solid contributor for most of last season, when he averaged 4.9 points per game, he rarely felt completely comfortable.

That has not been the case this season. Healthy and confident for the first time in two years, the redshirt sophomore swingman has seen across the board improvement. A rugged presence on both ends of the floor, Burgess is averaging career highs in points (7.5) and rebounds (4.1) per game.

On offense, Burgess has looked like a different player. On drives, he’s taken the ball hard to the rim and has been finishing around the basket. When he’s not, he’s looking for open 3-pointers. Long twos and mid-range shots – statistically inferior to layups and 3-pointers – have largely been eliminated and account for just 12 percent of his attempts this season.

According to Jeff Horne, who creates shot charts for every VCU game, 34 percent of Burgess’ field goal attempts have come from about six feet or less, and he’s converted 83 percent of those opportunities.

In 2013-14, Burgess shot just 28 percent (24-of-85) on all 2-point baskets. In 13 games this season, he has converted 65 percent (20-of-31) of his attempts from inside the arc. Overall, Burgess is shooting 49 percent from the field, and his effective field goal percentage (59) leads the team. Burgess shot just 31 percent overall last season with an effective field goal mark of 39 percent.

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