ICYMI: RAMS TOP BONA FOR 10TH STRAIGHT VICTORY

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VIDEO: RAMS OUTLAST SPIDERS IN OT

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My only comment is, what a college basketball game. This job is pretty fun some days.

BONUS RADIO GOODIES

VIDEO: RAMS CHASE AWAY BULLS

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FALL GRADUATES HONORED

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Emma Kruse, Garrett Cyprus, Mo Alie-Cox and Melvin Johnson are among seven VCU student-athletes set to graduate on Dec. 12

We’re taught to always think about graduation as a late spring/early summer thing. But! The academic calendar runs all year. There’s also a fall commencement, and seven VCU student-athletes will walk in those ceremonies on Dec. 12, including a couple of recognizable Rams’ hoops stars, Mo Alie-Cox and Melvin Johnson.

On Thursday, VCU took a moment to honor its fall graduates and to think about what it all means. 

TWO TALKS TO SHARE

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Not all of you get a chance to see these interviews that run on our pregame show on CBS 6.3, so I wanted to make sure you had an opportunity. I chatted with Melvin Johnson and Mo Alie-Cox last week briefly, where we discussed the ODU rivalry, Mo’s slimmer frame and Melvin’s love of playing in New York.

 

VIDEO: RAMS RUN PAST RADFORD

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Also, here’s an interview I did recently with Korey Billbury for the pregame show.

TWO TALKS – MELVIN & WILL

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Melvin Johnson addresses the audience at his VCU Criminal Justice TED Talk earlier this year.

Melvin Johnson addresses the audience at his VCU Criminal Justice TED Talk earlier this year.

We have two videos to share today, both educational, but with very different lessons. The first, the most important is Melvin Johnson’s criminal justice TED Talk from earlier this year. It’s important to remind everybody sometimes there’s more to the guys on the basketball court than just basketball. I love seeing student-athletes take part in things like this, and applaud the VCU Criminal Justice Program – which is terrific, as far as I can tell – for challenging these men and women.

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Today’s second video is a little more straightforward. Mike Litos sits down with Will Wade to discuss next season’s rule changes. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing Wade talk about basketball.

PORTLAND NOTES: RUSSELL OFFICIALLY CRAFTY, BROOKS BREAKS OUT FOR VCU

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Ohio State freshman D'Angelo Russell is averaging 19.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game this season.

Ohio State freshman D’Angelo Russell is averaging 19.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game this season.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Much of the talk surrounding VCU’s NCAA Tournament Round of 64 match-up with Ohio State has centered on Buckeyes’ star guard D’Angelo Russell, and for good reason.

Russell, a 6-foot-5 freshman, was recently named All-America by the United States Basketball Writers Association. The Louisville, Kentucky native ranks first nationally among freshmen in scoring (19.3 ppg) and is third in assists (168). Should he declare this spring, Russell is likely a top-five NBA Draft pick. NBADraftExpress.com has him third in its most recent mock draft.

VCU’s game plan will likely dedicate a chunk of attention to slowing down Russell, who has shown little difficulty adjusting to college basketball. A deft ball handler, Russell has also hit 90 three-pointers this year and leads Ohio State in rebounding (5.6 rpg). But it’s his passing skills that have people talking. From one-handed, laser bounce feeds to eye-popping spin passes in traffic, Russell’s vision, and the ability to get the ball into small spaces makes him especially dangerous.

VCU’s Michael Gilmore can vouch for Russell’s skills. They were AAU teammates with Each1 Teach1 in Florida. Gilmore soon realized that Russell wasn’t like other point guards.

“There would be times [in the huddle] where he’d just yell at me, roll, roll, roll after I set screens for him because after a couple of times where I didn’t think I was open,” Gilmore said. “I started trusting him with it. He’s a very good passer.”

Gilmore also has first-hand knowledge of how Russell’s scoring and passing ability play off of each other.

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VCU FINDS A LITTLE OF ITS OLD SELF; HAS LAST LAUGH ON RICHMOND

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Melvin Johnson hit five threes and scored 23 points in VCU's 70-67 win over Richmond Friday.

Melvin Johnson hit five threes and scored 23 points in VCU’s 70-67 win over Richmond Friday.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – It was a game against Richmond that originally jolted VCU into its darkest stretch under Shaka Smart, and it might have taken a game against Richmond to shock the Rams back to life.

After two crushing losses to the Spiders this season – a third if you count Briante Weber’s knee – VCU found a way to look a little more like itself Friday on the way to a heart-pounding, come-from-behind, 70-67 Atlantic 10 Quarterfinal victory at Barclays Center.

The win sends the fifth-seeded Rams back to the A-10 semifinals, where they’ll face top-seeded Davidson at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Bronx native Melvin Johnson enjoyed a strong shooting performance for the second straight night and finished with 23 points for the Rams. He hit 5-of-6 threes in the first half as VCU grabbed a 37-36 lead. When his jumper abandoned him in the second half, Johnson found other ways to bolster the Rams, including a steal and breakaway layup and later an assist on a go-ahead 3-pointer as VCU scored its biggest triumph, emotionally and practically, since January.

It was a VCU victory with a cathartic bent.

The Rams were nationally ranked and in the midst of a 12-game winning streak when a game with the rival Spiders on Jan. 31 altered the course of the season. Not only did VCU lose that game at the Siegel Center, it also lost Weber to a torn ACL in the waning moments. The Rams closed the regular season with a 5-6 stretch and lost heartbreakers to St. Bonaventure (at the buzzer), La Salle (in double overtime) and again, Richmond (also in double overtime). Once 7-0 in league play, the Rams slipped to the A-10 Tournament’s No. 5 seed.

VCU has spent the last six weeks trying to find itself without Weber, who was not only the Rams’ starting point guard, but their emotional cornerstone.

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SECOND CHANCES, JOHNSON’S RETURN TO FORM FUEL SECOND SEASON

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Melvin Johnson hit 4-of-7 three-pointers and scored 16 points to help lift VCU past Fordham Thursday.

Melvin Johnson hit 4-of-7 three-pointers and scored 16 points to help lift VCU past Fordham Thursday.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – An unfortunate consequence of poor shooting is the tendency to worry about more poor shooting. The key to breaking out, Melvin Johnson believes, isn’t more thinking, but less.

Johnson, who has battled shooting slumps this season, looked confident and comfortable Thursday as he stroked 5-of-8 shots, including 4-of-7 from three, to help pull fifth-seeded VCU to a 63-57 win over 12th-seeded Fordham in the second round of the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament at the Barclays Center.

In his last two games, Johnson is 7-of-13 from three. He finished with 16 points Thursday and hit a critical trey with 2:31 remaining as VCU kept a persistent Fordham at bay.

His revival comes at a good time for VCU, which is looking to break out of a shooting funk, and needs scoring from any player not named Treveon Graham. As a whole, the Rams (23-9) didn’t find their shooting stroke Thursday. VCU shot .301 (18-of-59) from the floor, a fact which kept Fordham (10-21) knocking at its door for 39 minutes. But Johnson and Graham ultimately provided just enough baskets and VCU was able to track down enough of its misses to secure the victory.

The Black & Gold grabbed 20 offensive rebounds and turned those into an 18-12 advantage in second chance points. It wasn’t pretty, but it was enough.

The win sets up a third meeting this season with rival Richmond Friday at 2:30 p.m. at Barclays.

Johnson, a Bronx native playing in front of friends and family, is VCU’s most prolific 3-point shooter. But when shots stopped falling for him earlier this season, it got to him. The more he obsessed over missed shots, the more he missed them. He says it took a fresh perspective to help the ball start finding the bottom of the basket.

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