RAMS LOOK TO THE PAST TO MOVE AHEAD

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VCU forced 24 turnovers in a 71-60 win over George Mason Saturday.

VCU forced 24 turnovers in a 71-60 win over George Mason Saturday.

RICHMOND, Va. – When you begin to pick up the pieces, you’ve got to start somewhere. For VCU, which suffered a humbling loss at Davidson on Thursday, that place was two years ago. To move forward, the Rams had to look back momentarily.

On Saturday, it helped produce an imperfect 71-60 win over George Mason in VCU’s regular season finale at the Verizon Wireless Arena. It was a start.

Working with a short turnaround following Thursday night’s 82-55 loss at Davidson, VCU Coach Shaka Smart showed his team clips from an 86-68 win over UMass on Feb. 14, 2012.

Those clips were not selected at random. That game featured a UMass squad in the midst of its best season in years. They were confident and fun. At the time, it was an A-10 must-watch game. VCU tightened its grip that night and forced 24 turnovers in a fan friendly, wide-open, 79-possession gem.

“Coach just reminded us of how VCU plays, the VCU way, and he showed us a clip of two years ago in the A-10 against UMass, the style of play and how the game was going,” said sophomore Mo Alie-Cox, who finished with 11 points. “So that really put a reminder in our heads about how we should play and an attacking mindset, and that’s what we really tried to do here today. “

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SENIOR SALUTE

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VR1104MBK01_124H.JPGRather than celebrate this year’s senior class of Jarred Guest, Briante Weber and Treveon Graham for what they’ve done in their four years as VCU Rams, let’s first take a took at what they haven’t done.

In four years, the trio hasn’t played a home game in front of anything less than a sellout. That’s 60 home games and 60 sellouts. I’m still not convinced these guys even know what an empty seat looks like. The only time they see an empty gym is in practice. Heck, the Rams aren’t even used to playing in front of sparse crowds on the road. George Washington has sold out two home games the last two seasons, and they were both against VCU.

You know what else these guys haven’t done? They’ve really dropped the ball when it comes to St. Patrick’s Day. It’s always some excuse about being busy in the middle of March every year. Must have something to do with three straight – soon to be four – trips to the NCAA Tournament.

There’s more. Guest, Weber and Graham don’t know what it’s like to toil in relative obscurity. The Rams have been ranked 21 weeks in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll during their careers. In the 38 Division I seasons prior to their tenure, the Rams had been ranked a total of nine weeks. As of this writing, VCU has been ranked for 11 straight weeks in the AP poll.

They don’t know what it’s like to play games that nobody outside the arena can see. Nearly every game of their career has been televised. Every VCU game the last two seasons has aired on TV, the majority of them nationally. During Jeff Capel’s final season as coach in 2005-06, the Rams played a total of nine TV games. That includes a couple produced out of a converted bread truck. I’m actually not kidding about the bread truck. That really happened.

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JEQUAN LEWIS MAKES A POINT

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Sophomore JeQuan Lewis is averaging 12.9 points and 3.0 assists per game since Briante Weber's season-ending injury.

Sophomore JeQuan Lewis is averaging 12.9 points and 3.0 assists per game since Briante Weber’s season-ending injury.

RICHMOND, Va. – JeQuan Lewis may be one of the smallest Rams, but he’s had to fill the biggest shoes of late.

Lewis, a 6-foot-1 sophomore point guard from Dickson, Tennessee, has taken over the role of starting point guard from senior star Briante Weber, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 31.

Weber’s absence created a void both material and immaterial. A larger-than-life personality, Weber’s energy and enthusiasm have inspired the Rams throughout his four-year career. On the floor, he was a defensive savant and a steady director of VCU’s up-tempo offense.

The injury was a blow, but Lewis has steadied the Rams at the point. VCU did lose back-to-back close games to St. Bonaventure and La Salle – the Rams were also without leading scorer Treveon Graham in those contests – but Lewis has helped keep the team from veering wildly off course.

In eight games since Weber’s injury, Lewis is second on the team in scoring (12.9 ppg) and leads the Rams in assists (3.0 apg) and steals (2.3 spg). It’s nothing team insiders didn’t believe was within Lewis’ reach, but it’s clear to VCU Coach Shaka Smart that Weber’s injury sped up the sophomore’s maturation process.

“He’s accepted the responsibility that comes with being the starting point guard,” Smart said.

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PEGRAM REALIZES VCU, DIVISION I DREAM

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Sophomore guard Ashley Pegram is VCU's third-leading scorer at 9.3 points per game.

Sophomore guard Ashley Pegram is VCU’s third-leading scorer at 9.3 points per game.

RICHMOND, Va. – You can tell how badly Richmond native Ashley Pegram wanted to play at VCU by the way she talks about it. A smile advances on her face as the soft-spoken sophomore describes the experience in glowing terms. It’s almost emotional.

You can tell how badly Pegram wanted to be a Ram the way she talks about the time it almost didn’t happen. During her sole, outstanding season at Chesapeake Junior College in Maryland, Pegram caught the attention of then-VCU Head Coach Marlene Stollings. It seemed like a perfect fit. But after the season, Stollings, the Rams’ fiery second-year coach, accepted a job at Minnesota. In the wake of Stollings’ departure, Pegram became uneasy as she contemplated her future.

“That really discouraged me,” she said. “Right when I signed, I found out they were leaving.”

It didn’t matter that Pegram had recently finished a season in which she averaged better than 23 points per game and was named a Junior College All-American. There was uncertainty. Beth O’Boyle was hired to replace Stollings. Pegram wanted to be at VCU, but would O’Boyle reciprocate?

“When she called, it was a relief to know that they were still going to try to recruit me,” Pegram said.

When O’Boyle assured Pegram she’d have a place on VCU’s roster, the former prep star was overcome with joy. It was where she wanted to be all along.

“It was one of the best feelings of my life,” Pegram said. “I just felt like my dream came true. I was so excited.”

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TALE OF THREE CITIES; DANIELS ON THE MOVE IN 2ND NBA SEASON

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VCU alum Troy Daniels is averaging 2.7 points and shooting .317 from 3-point range this season.

VCU alum Troy Daniels is averaging 2.7 points and shooting .317 from 3-point range this season.

Troy Daniels is technically a Houston resident – he has a town home there – but he’s officially been living out of a suitcase the past couple of months.

It’s been a whirlwind second NBA season for the former VCU sharpshooter. Daniels, briefly a playoff hero for the Houston Rockets last season, has been traded twice since December. Despite the shuffling of zip codes, Daniels is still happy to be wearing in NBA uniform, regardless of where the team is located.

“It’s fun to even be considered by an NBA team, and I just appreciate the opportunities I’ve been given,” he says.

For now, and presumably for the near future, he’s a Charlotte Hornet, but he also thought he’d be a Houston Rocket for a while, until the team dealt him to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Dec. 19. Before he’d even had time to pick out a favorite grocery store, he and teammate Mo Williams were traded to Charlotte on Feb 10.

It’s actually Daniels’ second tour of duty with the Hornets. Daniels played for the organization’s summer league team and earned a training camp invite as an undrafted free agent in 2013.

The irony is that Charlotte, then known as the Bobcats, cut Daniels, which actually may have helped launch his NBA career. He was quickly signed by Houston, which stashed him with its Rio Grande D-League team. Daniels flourished in Rio Grande’s revolutionary, 3-point-heavy system, as the Roanoke, Virginia native set a D-League single-season record for threes.

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A-10 RACE HEADED DOWN TO THE WIRE

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It’s Feb. 27, and the Atlantic 10 Conference regular season title is, to say the least, undecided with three games remaining:

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 2.35.47 PM

For the time being, we’ll ignore the unlikely event that UMass or Richmond, both 9-6, find an avenue to the top seed. Quite a conundrum we have here, eh? In the event of a two-way tie, the tiebreaker is simply head-to-head. After that, it gets…complicated. Per the A-10 (click to enlarge):

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 2.44.03 PM

Let’s take a quick look at each of the four teams’ remaining schedules (results listed are Ken Pomeroy’s predictions).

VCU
VCU

The good news for VCU is that it still controls its own destiny at this point. The Rams own a head-to-head tiebreaker versus Rhode Island and can lock up the league title with wins against Dayton and Davidson (easier said than done). Combined A-10 record of remaining opponents: 25-20.

DAYTON
Dayton

While Dayton does not control its own destiny – the Flyers lost at Davidson – they can prevent both VCU and Rhode Island from winning the league, then hope Davidson stumbles down the stretch. Combined A-10 record of remaining opponents: 29-16.

DAVIDSON
Davidson

Davidson, a preseason afterthought in the league race, may be in the most advantageous position of the four contenders. The Wildcats two toughest games on paper are both at home, where they are 12-1 this year. The Wildcats also own wins over both Dayton and Rhode Island. The Wildcats did lose to VCU on Jan. 7.  Combined A-10 record of remaining opponents: 24-21.

RHODE ISLAND
Rhody

Rhode Island likely has the most to lose from missing out on the regular season title and also may have the most uphill battle. The remaining schedule is tough, but negotiable, but the Rams have already lost to both VCU and Davidson and still have to play at Dayton, where the Flyers are unbeaten this season. Combined record of remaining A-10 opponents: 24-21.

At this stage VCU and Dayton (most likely) are in the NCAA Tournament, while Davidson has played itself onto the bubble. Rhode Island, however, really needs a strong finish to get into the bubble conversation.

Buckle up. It should be fun.

 

THORPE ICES DAVIDSON

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Check out VCU sophomore Isis Thorpe’s buzzer-beater at Davidson from Wednesday night. With the game tied at 63-all, VCU inbounded from underneath its own basket with 2.5 seconds left. Inbounder Chadarryl Clay spies Thorpe over the top and the Pennsylvania native catches and fires the winner. VCU improved to 16-12 with the win, while Thorpe continues to enjoy a terrific sophomore season. She led VCU with 16 points last night.

RICHMOND POSTGAME

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RECENT TRIALS REVEAL VCU CHARACTER

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Treveon Graham finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds - his 20th career double-double - for VCU Wednesday.

Treveon Graham finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds – his 20th career double-double – for VCU Wednesday.

RICHMOND, Va. – At some point, late in regulation of Wednesday night’s 67-63 double overtime loss to Richmond, as Treveon Graham took the ball for the umpteenth time, his lungs likely burning (and not just from all the floating sweater vest fibers in the air), his legs probably feeling like Jell-O, I wondered when his body would just quit. Shut down. Go on strike. Possession after possession I watched as he slogged through the clogged paint, took abuse and readied for more.

And that was before he willed an improbable VCU comeback into existence by – I don’t even know what to call it anymore – Grahamagic?

What followed was about an hour of the most emotionally draining, mathematically unlikely and just plain crazy basketball I’ve witnessed while on the VCU dime.

Teetering on the edge of full-on collapse early in the second half, VCU rallied from 16 points down to force overtime. With 2:06 left, the Rams were still down eight and shooting a very comeback-unfriendly 30-something-or-other percent. But then a steal and a few free throws, and a three and another steal and an airball and another steal and a couple of missed Richmond free throws and then a 3-pointer so deep Graham wouldn’t try it in H-O-R-S-E and then a ShawnDre’ Jones prayer that agonizingly bounced three times on the rim after the buzzer….and boom. Overtime, just that simple.

Oh, but wait. In overtime, VCU takes an eventual three-point lead with seven seconds left, fouls Richmond with 4.1 on the clock and then watches as Richmond purposely misses the second free throw, gets a perfect deflection off VCU and then runs a great inbounds play to tie the game. Double overtime, just that simple.

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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

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On Saturday, Feb. 21, VCU retired Bradford Burgess’ jersey. He became the fifth player in school history to receive that honor. In case you couldn’t be at the Siegel Center, here’s what you missed.

 

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