AGAINST TEXAS, RAMS CAME UP BIG

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Freshman Marcus Santos-Silva (8 points, 6 rebounds) was one of several VCU “bigs” who impressed Tuesday.

By Andy Lohman

Tuesday night was big in every way.

The return of Head Coach Shaka Smart was big. The man who took the Rams to the Final Four was back in the house that Havoc built. As he walked out before player intros, his ovation was big. A fan base with a cathartic recognition of a former leader. But it was nothing compared to how big the noise would get.

The Siegel Center was ear-splittingly loud, a volume that felt like it was going to cause seismic activity.

“The fans were crazy tonight, unbelievable,” senior forward Justin Tillman said. “It definitely brought us a lot of energy.”

The crowd was big. The 105th consecutive sellout was recorded at 7,637, but it would have been believable at 10,000. The arena pulsated with every swell of action, a black and gold orchestra conducted by a manic Mike Rhoades, who urged Ram Nation to get loud whenever the Longhorns reached the free throw line.

The match-up was big. VCU is a young team looking to turn the corner, and had a shot at a signature win for an NCAA Tournament resume. Texas is as big of an athletic department as you can get. A Big 12 school, from the state where everything is bigger, with a nine-figure revenue mark.

Finally, the matchups were big. Texas forward Mohamed Bamba stands at 6-foot-11 and is a likely lottery pick in the NBA Draft. VCU’s big men were up to the challenge, fueling a big comeback in the second half. In just over eight minutes, the Rams erased a 57-38 Texas lead and took a 63-62 advantage with 3:52 to play.

The man that hit the go-ahead three-pointer was VCU’s 6-foot-7 forward, Khris Lane.

“Oh man, it was amazing,” Lane said of the crowd when his three went down. “I said something to myself, but I couldn’t even hear what I said to myself because it was that loud.”

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LONG-RANGE SHOOTING OF WILLIAMS, TILLMAN TURNING INTO VALUABLE WEAPON FOR VCU

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By Andy Lohman

In tough games, you need your seniors to step up and lead by example

VCU got exactly that from Johnny Williams and Justin Tillman in Tuesday night’s 85-72 win over Appalachian State, with Williams pouring in 18 points and seven assists and Tillman contributing 21 points and six rebounds.

But what stood out for the two Rams seniors was not the fact that they made an impact, but the way in which they did so: the three-point shot.

Williams hit a career-high four 3-pointers on six attempts, and Tillman swished both of his shots from beyond the arc, complimenting a 6-for-9 night from the field overall.

In the three previous seasons, the two had combined for a nine percent 3-point field goal percentage. Tillman had missed all three of his career attempts, while Williams knocked down three out of 30 attempts.

But both put in the work this summer to expand their game, developing into more dynamic players.

“I was in the gym all the time working,” Williams said of his summer. “Ask anybody, late night I was passing up whatever things were going on just to get in the gym, just work on my game.”

“All my work in the summer,” Tillman said. “Working out two to three hours straight until all the GAs [graduate assistants] are tired and don’t want to work out anymore.”

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TILLMAN STEPPING INTO THE FOREFRONT FOR VCU

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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.

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INSIDE A-10 MEN’S BASKETBALL MEDIA DAY

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Enjoy this look at Mike Rhoades’ and Justin Tillman’s trip to Atlantic 10 Conference Media Day in Washington, D.C.

ICYMI: RAMS TOP BONA FOR 10TH STRAIGHT VICTORY

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NIGHT OF 1,000 DUNKS…

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In case you missed it, VCU dunked all over Fordham Wednesday night. VCU did pretty much whatever it wanted for 40 minutes on the way to an 88-54 victory. As it turns out, what VCU wanted to do was dunk, often.

Once you’re done with the dunks, you can digest this other good stuff. First, there’s a sitdown with Gerron Scissum, as well as a fun atmosphere piece.

POSTGAME
Sorry guys, the audio is pretty hot in these. We’ll work with our tech team on that.

NOTEBOOK: 2015 BLACK AND GOLD GAME NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS

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Current VCU players and alumni pose prior to Saturday’s Black and Gold Game.

RICHMOND, Va. – Justin Tillman repeatedly dunked at Saturday night’s Black and Gold Game like a man trying to scare the 2015-16 season to life. Mission accomplished.

Tillman provided one of the most powerful performances in VCU’s annual intrasquad scrimmage with 20 points, including six dunks, and 10 rebounds to lead the Black team to an 85-76 win before 5,223 at the Siegel Center.

It can be difficult to assess the value of players’ performances in games like this one, but Tillman dared people to notice with a series of vicious slams. The sophomore forward averaged 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds per game last season, but new VCU Coach Will Wade can probably envision an uptick in Tillman’s numbers if he continues with such high-voltage efforts.

“I thought Tillman was great. He’s been phenomenal in practice,” Wade said. “His activity level was through the roof. He was tremendous, and he’s been that way in practice. He’s been an energy guy, an activity guy and that certainly showed today.”

Tillman’s presence has always been a flashy one, with his tall, dyed afro and his highlight reel dunks.

“He dunks everything, and I love that,” Wade said. “I worry about the backboards in the Development Center sometimes. He dunks everything. I love it, though. He’s a player.”

Tillman should figure prominently in Wade’s rotation, given the departure of Treveon Graham – who garnered the bulk of VCU’s minutes at power forward last season – and the coach’s emphasis on post play. You can expect to see more traditional lineups featuring two post players this season under Wade than in recent years.

Tillman played the 4-spot Saturday alongside center Mo Alie-Cox, and the two combined for 35 points and 18 rebounds. One could certainly imagine Wade pairing those two together down low on a regular basis.

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NO, YOU WILL NOT BE GOING BASELINE ON JUSTIN TILLMAN

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The only thing that would make this highlight better would be a special effects explosion, because Justin Tillman blocked the world out of Saint Louis’ Ash Yacoubou on this play. If this happened to me, I would fake an injury and go back to the lockerroom and curl up in a ball.

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In other news, here are tonight’s pressers.

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EDIT: BONUS AWESOME VIDEO
Here is VCU’s bench reacting to Torey Burston’s first career basket, a 3-pointer, no less.

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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VIDEO: VCU BATTERS BELMONT BRUINS 78-51

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HIGHLIGHTS

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BELMONT COACH RICK BYRD

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VCU COACH SHAKA SMART

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VCU PLAYERS

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