JUSTIN TILLMAN DUNKS ON THE WORLD

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Here’s a Vine of Justin Tillman absolutely decimating the rim with a dunk on Belmont tonight. He finished with a career-high 16 points.

EDIT: Now with YouTube

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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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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.

 

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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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BLACK & GOLD SCRIMMAGE: 6 THINGS TO WATCH

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Doug Brooks dribbles during last year's Black & Gold Scrimmage.

Doug Brooks dribbles during last year’s Black & Gold Scrimmage.

Up until now, you either needed CIA-level clearance from Shaka Smart or a grappling hook and a glass cutter to see the 2014-15 VCU Men’s Basketball team in action.

That changes on Sunday, Oct. 26 when VCU opens up the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center for the Black and Gold Game, a sort-of annual intrasquad scrimmage open to the public.

Here are six things to look for.

1-THE NEW GUYS: Remember the last time an incoming VCU recruiting class generated as much attention as this year’s freshman class? Yeah, me neither. The quartet of Terry Larrier, Justin Tillman, Michael Gilmore and Johnny Williams has received plenty of attention, and for good reason. ESPN ranked this group one of the 15 best in the country, so forgive us if we’re a little excited. Like, Briante Weber excited. Is Larrier rotation ready? Can Gilmore and Tillman solidify VCU’s frontcourt? Can Johnny Williams shoulder some of the point guard duties this season? The Black and Gold Game won’t answer those questions, but it’ll help us begin to form a picture.

2-MICROWAVE MELVIN: According to this recent feature in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, junior guard Melvin Johnson, who plays style of made-for-TV basketball, put some serious hours in at Franklin Street Gym this summer. Johnson says he was hoisting up about 500 three-pointers on most days, sometimes more. The Rams will need to replace the scoring punch of Juvonte Reddic and Rob Brandenberg. Johnson is a safe bet to pick up some of that slack.

3-OVERREACTIONS: Hey kids. I know none of us like to talk about this, but sometimes we tend to overemphasize the importance of things like an intra-squad scrimmage in October. Just because somebody blows up in an exhibition is no guarantee of a big season. Sure, Melvin Johnson hit five 3-pointers in last year’s Black and Gold Scrimmage, but I also gushed over Terrance Shannon’s heady performance and expected big things out of the Florida State transfer. While Shannon certainly provided some big plays for the Rams – plus one of the cooler put-back dunks I’ve ever seen – he never got entirely comfortable. I also loved Jairus Lyes quickness and playmaking in last year’s game, but he never could wrestle many minutes away from Briante Weber or JeQuan Lewis. Let the scrimmage serve as a piece of the bigger picture, not a predictor of greatness.

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WITH TOUTED FRESHMEN ON BOARD, SMART PREACHES PATIENCE

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Shaka Smart is set to open his sixth season as VCU coach.

Shaka Smart is set to open his sixth season as VCU coach.

RICHMOND, Va. – Shaka Smart understands the hype around his freshman class. He did recruit Justin Tillman, Jonathan Williams, Michael Gilmore and Terry Larrier, after all. But he’s also seen enough freshmen struggle to know that caution is often the best path.

“We have four freshmen who have done a really nice job since they got here in June,” Smart said Wednesday. “Right now they’re going through the typical freshman fall ups and downs and transitioning to getting physically ready for real college practice and the competition that comes with that every day.”

Smart will get a closer look at his freshman class’ transition soon. The Rams kick off full team practices Friday, six weeks prior to their season-opener on Nov. 14 against Tennessee in Annapolis.

No VCU recruiting class has garnered as much attention as this far-reaching quartet, which Smart and his staff tapped from Detroit (Tillman), New York (Larrier), Jacksonville (Gilmore) and Richmond (Williams). ESPN rated the class No. 14 in the country last year. Larrier, Gilmore and Tillman were all ranked in ESPN’s Top 100 players.

Larrier has received the bulk of the preseason hype. A consensus four-star and top-50 recruit, Larrier’s choice of VCU over UConn was seen by many as a coup for the Rams. A 6-foot-8 guard, Larrier possesses an advanced offensive game, as well as the length Smart covets in his high-energy, full court press.

“He’s going to help us a lot this year,” Smart said. “I think he’s going to have a big role. I would say similar to a Treveon Graham, a Melvin Johnson did as freshmen. Maybe a little bit more if he can put it together. It’s always interesting to see how freshmen are able to deal with everything that goes into being a freshman, and he’s just getting started with that.”

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