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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RICHMOND POSTGAME

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DEEP, VERSATILE RAMS SEND MESSAGE IN LOP-SIDED WIN OVER GEORGE WASHINGTON

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Sophomore Mo Alie-Cox provided 10 points and 8 rebounds, and played stout defense, in VCU's 72-48 win Tuesday night.

Sophomore Mo Alie-Cox provided 10 points and 8 rebounds, and played stout defense, in VCU’s 72-48 win Tuesday night.

RICHMOND, Va. – There was a moment at the end of the first half Tuesday night where Mike Lonergan appeared close to earning a technical foul. Referee Tim Kelly clearly gave the George Washington coach a second look before Lonergan, protesting contact on VCU’s final possession of the half, cooled down and retreated to his lockerroom.

On second thought, he probably wishes he had stuck to his guns and picked up a couple of technicals.

Instead, he returned to the floor for the second half and watched powerlessly as VCU pulverized his Colonials squad 72-48. VCU actually led by as many as 29, and George Washington shot an abysmal 19 percent (5-of-26) from the field in the period as the Rams rumbled to their 12th straight win.

On paper, it was a contest between the Atlantic 10 Conference’s preseason No. 1 (VCU) and No. 2 (GW) teams. On the hardwood, it was no contest at all.

The Rams haven’t lost since Dec. 6, but still found a way to open people’s eyes Tuesday night. It was a performance impressive in both because of who the Rams beat and how they did it. It was the type of game that spoke to how good this VCU team can be. VCU, which has played one of the toughest schedules in the country, didn’t need to justify its top-15 ranking, but the Rams sure looked every bit like a top-15 team anyway.

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VIDEO: VCU DISMANTLES GEORGE WASHINGTON 72-48

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HIGHLIGHTS

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SHAKA SMART

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VCU PLAYERS

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GEORGE WASHINGTON COACH MIKE LONERGAN

BELMONT NOTEBOOK: TILLMAN ELECTRIFIES

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Freshman forward Justin Tillman finished with a career-high 16 points Tuesday.

Freshman forward Justin Tillman finished with a career-high 16 points Tuesday.

RICHMOND, Va. – Justin Tillman provided the lasting memory of VCU’s 78-51 rout of Belmont Tuesday night at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Siegel Center, but there was certainly more to his performance than one play.

Tillman, a 6-foot-8 freshman from Detroit, turned in his most impressive game of the young season with 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting, including a pair of thunderous dunks. It was the second straight solid effort for Tillman, who is giving Coach Shaka Smart plenty of reasons to find him more minutes.

He came into Tuesday’s game averaging 3.9 points and 2.1 rebounds, but in his last two contests, Tillman has averaged 12.0 points, while shooting 11-of-13 from the field. His emergence, combined with the continued growth of sophomore Mo Alie-Cox, give VCU a reason to be optimistic about replacing the production of Juvonte Reddic in the post.

For Tillman, Tuesday’s effort was the culmination of a solid 10-game stretch to begin his college career. While each of VCU’s four freshmen has given the Rams’ encouraging moments, Tillman has been the most consistent. Smart believes that’s because Tillman keeps it simple.

“There is no pretense to Justin. There’s no nonsense. There’s no worrying about things that don’t matter,” Smart said. “He just plays, tries to follow the plan. If he makes a mistake, he’s hard on himself, but he doesn’t lose confidence. He just does what you want him to do. I think for that reason, in addition to his physical, gifts he’s going to be a terrific player here.”

Following Saturday’s double-overtime win over Northern Iowa, a game in which Tillman scored eight points, Smart said that the Detroit native had made the quickest adjustment from high school to college basketball of VCU’s touted recruiting class. It appears there are reasons for that. Despite his relative youth, Tillman says his approach is pretty straightforward.

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RAMS FIND SOMETHING IN RESERVE, TOP UNI 93-87

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Sophomore Doug Brooks hit a critical 3-pointer in double overtime Saturday.

Sophomore Doug Brooks hit a critical 3-pointer in double overtime Saturday.

RICHMOND, Va. – The shot you’ll remember will be Treveon Graham’s clutch fadeaway 3-pointer in the second overtime. That dramatic shot with 2:14 left finally sent 23rd-ranked Northern Iowa to the ropes, but it was the work of Graham’s supporting cast that kept the Rams fighting long enough to pull out a heart-pounding 93-87 win over the Panthers at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center Saturday.

Graham, VCU’s leading scorer and a legitimate All-America candidate, knocked down a pair of free throws with seconds remaining and finished with a team-high 21 points and 11 rebounds. Graham put in yeoman’s work Saturday night, but it was what he didn’t have to do that was notable about VCU’s win.

Especially on offense, the Rams have been a two-man show of late between Graham and Melvin Johnson. But against the previously unbeaten Panthers (9-1), VCU received points from 11 different players. The Rams did so by moving the ball. VCU assisted on 20 of its 33 field goals Saturday night.

Those numbers are in stark contrast to the last three games, when Johnson and Graham accounted for 61 percent of the Rams’ scoring. Against UNI, that duo scored just 35 percent (33 of 93) of VCU’s points. The Rams’ bench provided 31 points, the second-highest total all season. Only the 64 bench points VCU scored in a runaway rout of overmatched Maryland-Eastern Shore earlier this season topped Saturday’s reserve output.

“Our bench production is what won us the game,” VCU Coach Shaka Smart said afterwards. “Our bench was better than it has been earlier in the year. We still have to keep improving, but today was a step in the right direction.”

Earlier in the week, Smart commented on VCU’s need to find additional scoring options to Graham and Johnson, and the Rams responded. The contributions came from everywhere.

Touted freshman Terry Larrier, mired in a shooting slump, scored nine points in nine minutes. Larrier hit his final two 3-point attempts to snap out of a 1-of-12 slump from beyond the arc.

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RAMS LOOK FOR BALANCE AS #23 UNI VISITS

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Senior Treveon Graham is averaging a team-leading 17.4 points per game.

Senior Treveon Graham is averaging a team-leading 17.4 points per game.

RICHMOND, Va. –VCU is going to need all the help it can get to beat No. 23 Northern Iowa Saturday night. The Panthers (9-0) roll into Richmond unbeaten and likely riding a wave of confidence. The Panthers also own a 77-68 win over VCU last season in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

“I think that Northern Iowa is playing better than they were last year…in fact, I know they are,” said VCU Coach Shaka Smart. “We’re certainly going to need to play better than we did last year.”

To beat the Panthers, VCU will likely need to utilize most, if not all of the offensive resources at its disposal. The Rams’ offense has been nearly as prolific as last year, but less balanced. Saturday, and moving forward, VCU Coach Shaka Smart knows the Rams will be better off if they can find scoring punch outside of senior Treveon Graham and junior Melvin Johnson, who are averaging a combined 34.5 points per game. That duo has accounted for 46 percent of VCU’s points this season. That’s due in part to Johnson and Graham’s outstanding play, but also because the Rams haven’t yet seen a reliable third option emerge.

Last year, five Rams averaged 9.4 points per game or better. Right now, only Graham and Johnson meet that threshold. There’s a steep drop-off between Johnson, VCU’s second-leading scorer (16.9 ppg) and Jordan Burgess, the Rams’ third-best scoring option (8.5 ppg) at this point.

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VIDEO: SHAKA SMART DOUBLE FEATURE

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First and foremost, here is a CBS feature on Shaka Smart and his role as a father figure to many of VCU’s players. It’s terrific and a must-watch for any VCU fan.

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Shaka Smart talks Toledo, JeQuan Lewis and other topics.

MBB PHOTO DAY: AN IPHONE PREVIEW

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Disclaimer: These photos were taken on a late-model iPhone by an untrained photographer (me) in occasionally sub-standard lighting. We had actual real photographers on site to capture actual professional photos. You’ll see those (probably) Wednesday. This is just a behind-the-scenes preview.

 

Shooting the men's intro video #LetsGoVCU

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Mo Alie-Cox picks his one-on-one match-up. #LetsGoVCU

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BLACK & GOLD SCRIMMAGE OBSERVATIONS

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Melvin Johnson (center) led all scorers with 26 points in Sunday's scrimmage.

Melvin Johnson (center) led all scorers with 26 points in Sunday’s scrimmage.

RICHMOND, Va. – It certainly didn’t feel like a scrimmage, what with the stands full of black and gold-clad fans, the pep band in mid-season, bar-raising form, and players crashing into the benches for loose balls.

VCU Coach Shaka Smart put his 2014-15 team on display Sunday night in the annual intra-squad Black and Gold Scrimmage at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. A crowd of 4,855 poured in to have a look, and they likely came away with plenty to talk about – and that’s without even talking about the basketball. It was an event with regular-season appeal, two weeks early.

On the floor, fans were treated to an up-and-down pace and some new faces, as well as a few familiar players who were anything but old hat.

Here are a few takeaways from the game, a 73-63 win for the Gold team, led by JeQuan Lewis and Briante Weber.

1-VCU fans are ridiculous in the best way possible. Much was made of last year’s Black and Gold Scrimmage audience of nearly 3,200. That’s pretty impressive for a intra-squad scrimmage. The first two schools I worked at in college athletics would’ve changed their mascots to the Fightin’ CPAs for a REGULAR SEASON crowd of 3,200 at one of their games. But 4,800? Are you serious? That’s better than the average attendance of seven Atlantic 10 Conference schools last year and just a shade below George Mason’s average crowd from 2013-14.

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