JORDAN BURGESS DOES 20, HIS WAY

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Jordan Burgess may wear the same number as older brother Bradford, but he's carving out his own, distinct legacy at VCU.

Jordan Burgess may wear the same number as older brother Bradford, but he’s carving out his own, distinct legacy at VCU.

RICHMOND, Va. – It was only appropriate that perhaps the biggest plays of VCU’s win over UMass Saturday were made by a Burgess.

After his jersey was retired in a pregame ceremony, former VCU star Bradford Burgess looked on as younger brother Jordan helped turn the tide in a pivotal 78-72 victory.

It was Bradford Burgess’ first game at the Siegel Center since he graduated in 2012. He was likely impressed with what he saw. Jordan finished with 5 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and a blocked shot. While it wasn’t the type of stat line that inspires people to hang your jersey from the rafters, it did advance the notion that Jordan is doing just fine carving out a memorable career, his way.

“There’s a tendency sometimes to dwell upon stats in measuring a player’s impact, but I think that’s a mistake with Jordan. He’s about winning. He’s about the right things,” VCU Coach Shaka Smart said afterwards.

Although he wears the same No. 20 Bradford and bears a resemblance, Jordan’s game is much more rugged. There’s no veneer. He’s not the shooter Bradford was – at least not yet. No, Jordan is something different.

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BURGESS FINDS SURE FOOTING

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VCU Rams1

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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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: VCU SHUTS DOWN RHODE ISLAND 68-52

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HIGHLIGHTS

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RHODE ISLAND COACH DANNY HURLEY

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SHAKA SMART

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JORDAN BURGESS, JEQUAN LEWIS, JUVONTE REDDIC

VIDEO: VCU DEFEATS FORDHAM 76-60

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HIGHLIGHTS

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SHAKA SMART

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MELVIN JOHNSON, JORDAN BURGESS, BRIANTE WEBER

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FORDHAM COACH TOM PECORA

MO’S A GO; FROSH MAKES EARLY IMPACT

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After sitting out the 2012-13 season, Mo Alie-Cox is averaging 3.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game this year.

After sitting out the 2012-13 season, Mo Alie-Cox is averaging 3.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game this year.

RICHMOND, Va. – It looks like Mo Alie-Cox was worth the wait.

Watching the 6-foot-6 freshman fly around the basketball court, slamming powerful dunks, blocking shots with his tennis racket hands, swallowing rebounds with his muscular, tree-branch arms, it’s hard to imagine the kinetic Alie-Cox – his dreadlocks flopping around as if they were hanging onto his scalp for dear life – as basically a man without a country last season.

Ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA last summer, the VCU freshman experienced the 2012-13 basketball season the same way many Rams fans did, from the stands. The Lorton, Va. native wasn’t allowed to practice with his teammates or even sit on the bench during games. He was on the VCU roster, but in a lot of ways, Alie-Cox was on his own team.

VCU Coach Shaka Smart met with Alie-Cox nearly every day last year after the freshman’s gym or weight room sessions to “try to give him some examples of things that would motivate him and things that were coming in the future.”

While Alie-Cox says he valued those conversations with Smart and his staff, there wasn’t a whole lot else that could be done to involve him in the day-to-day rigors of basketball season.

Instead, Alie-Cox was left to work out on his own with a training program designed by Strength and Conditioning Coach Daniel Roose. Alie-Cox may be physically impressive, but he says he had never seriously lifted weights before last year. When he finally did, he made some eye-popping – and muscle popping – gains.

Alie-Cox says he could only do about four body weight pull-ups when he got to college. The 250-pound Alie-Cox recently maxed out at 23. He also says he shaved three minutes off his mile run and can now bench press 185 pounds more than 20 times. Roose says that after returning to practice, Alie-Cox was able to squat all of the weight his staff could fit on the bar, nearly 600 pounds.

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VIDEO: VCU TOPS WOFFORD 72-57

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HIGHLIGHTS!

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SHAKA SMART!

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JEQUAN LEWIS, JORDAN BURGESS, TREVEON GRAHAM!

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WOFFORD COACH MIKE YOUNG!

VCU-EASTERN KENTUCKY NOTEBOOK

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Freshman JeQuan Lewis scored 13 points Thursday in VCU's 71-68 victory.

Freshman JeQuan Lewis scored 13 points Thursday in VCU’s 71-68 victory.

RICHMOND, Va. – As pure entertainment, VCU’s 71-68 overtime win over Eastern Kentucky Thursday at the Verizon Wireless Arena was terrific. There was practically March intensity in an early December game, the score was close, it was, for the most part, well-played, and the pace was often dizzying.

But Rams’ Coach Shaka Smart can invest very little emotionally in the basketball on the floor as a consumable product. As a coach, he’s got to be more clinical. For Smart, there’s likely more value in the victory as a progress report of sorts.

On that level, there was much for him to see. Some things, he’ll like, others, he won’t. But for the second straight game, his team provided a window through which to view how good it could be. On the other hand, Smart knows the Rams have plenty of work to do.

While the fans and media were bullish on VCU from day one, Smart has never sold the Rams as being a finished project. Sure, he’d like them to be, and Smart wants the Rams to be as good – and even better – as that top 10 ranking they once held, but we live in a world of college basketball where North Carolina can lose to UAB and then beat top-ranked Michigan State. The game is unpredictable, and teams don’t always realize their potential when coaches want. VCU certainly has moments of greatness. Capturing it and honing it is a skill in and of itself.

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GAME CHANGE; RAMS SHOW GROWTH, VERSATILITY IN UVA WIN

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Treveon Graham hit the game-winner, as VCU wrestled a Virginia-style victory away from the Cavaliers.

Treveon Graham hit the game-winner as VCU wrestled a Virginia-style victory away from the Cavaliers.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Treveon Graham has scored 832 points in his 74 games as a Ram, and he’s a safe bet for many, many more, but VCU fans are going to savor these three for a while.

Graham scored 22 points Tuesday night, including a lightning bolt 3-pointer from NBA range with 1.4 seconds left to give the 14th-ranked Rams a 59-56, meat grinder road victory at 25th-ranked Virginia.

It’s a shot, and a win, that will likely echo for years in Richmond. But beyond where the moment ranks for VCU fans in the annals, it has immediately become an important victory for this team; one that showcased the Rams’ potential, and one that could pay dividends down the road.

In a season where already much has been expected of the Rams (see their No. 14 national ranking), this was an early delivery on that promise. Although just the second game of the season, this contest, played before a crowd of nearly 14,000, held March-Madness, title-fight intensity. Rams’ Coach Shaka Smart may try to pump the brakes on the excitement over what is a single, November victory, but regardless, Tuesday’s win will remain notable.

This is the type of game critics said VCU couldn’t win. They said that the Rams’ up-tempo, chaotic Havoc style couldn’t translate against a team like Virginia. The Cavaliers, with their Pack Line defense and deliberate motion offense, were the kind of match-up problem that was supposed to be able to stop Havoc. And it did, for the most part.

But that’s kind of the point.

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