Recap: VCU overcomes big hole and survives EKU in OT

It took overtime, but VCU battled back from a 25-11 deficit to top EKU 71-68 Thursday night.

VCU-EKU

Virginia Commonwealth University overcame a fourteen point deficit and played incredible defense in overtime to beat Eastern Kentucky University 71-68 Thursday night.

Recap

We’re not good until the final buzzer sounds and we have more points than them.Coach Smart

For the second game in a row, the Rams found themselves down double-digits in the first half to an Ohio Valley Conference opponent. The Rams trailed Belmont 23-11 on Sunday. On Thursday, they trailed EKU 25-11. The Colonels opened the game shooting 9 of 11 from the field, they forced Briante Weber into a couple of turnovers, and the Rams struggled to score against the 2-3 zone. Juvonte Reddic was limited to four (!) shots in 36 minutes including a forced 3-pointer.

EKU’s trio of athletic guards, Glenn Cosey (17 points), Corey Walden (19 points), and Marcus Lewis (15 points) were effective at breaking the press both by dribbling and passing. In the half court they used dribble penetration to find open shooters, and they burned VCU on the same backdoor cut multiple times.

We’ve been talking for three days about how good they are, but I think it was a little bit of a reality check for our guys.Coach Smart

Then the shots started falling. Over one stretch, the Rams hit five of eight 3-pointers while scoring all of their points from beyond the arc. VCU hit four more threes in the first half to finish off an impressive 9-of-14 stretch from 3-point range.

Despite the impressive shooting, it took a buzzer-beating Treveon Graham tip-in to give VCU their first lead of the half since going up 2-0. The Rams finished the half on a 10-0 run.

VCU stumbled into the second half and continued making many of the same mistakes that plagued the first. With under three minutes remaining, Briante Weber made a pair of mistakes that could have tipped the game: a missed front end of a one-and-one, and a bad turnover in the backcourt.

With the game tied at 66 with under a minute remaining, the Rams buckled down and forced a shot-clock violation to get the ball back with 24.5 second remaining. On the final play, Treveon Graham drove to the hoop but turned over the ball. Corey Walden threw a half-court prayer which hit the rim.

The Rams defensive dominance that ended regulation continued into overtime. EKU started the period with three missed shots and three turnovers. Finally Corey Walden hustled in a layup after a missed free-throw. The Colonels would score just two points in the final 7:13 of the game.

Digging Deep Holes

The Rams dominated Illinois State from buzzer to buzzer, fought neck and neck with UVA, and consistently outplayed Winthrop in their first three games. Since then, they’ve trailed in every single game. Recently, they’ve gotten into the habit of digging big holes.

Opponent Deficit Time Result
Florida State 36-22 1st-4:59

L · 85-67

LBSU 50-42 2nd-14:56

W · 73-67

Georgetown 8-0 1st-15:05

L · 84-80

Northeastern 34-29 1st-01:07

W · 79-66

Belmont 23-11 1st-12:23

W · 81-68

EKU 25-11 1st-10:54

W · 71-68

Florida State was a blowout, but the Rams could have won the Georgetown game if they had started stronger. On the other hand, having to overcome deficits against teams like Northeastern, Belmont, and EKU is not sustainable. In the grind of a conference schedule, the Rams are not going to want to rely on 22-2 runs and incredible 3-point shooting in order to put away middle of the pack teams.

Top performer: JeQuan Lewis

18 minutes, 13 points, 4-7 shooting (3-6 3-point shooting), 1 assist, 3 turnovers, 1 steal

We don’t win the game without him. We don’t win the last two games [without him].Coach Smart

JeQuan Lewis went to Tennessee a freshman and returned a man. Lewis has always shown flashes of brilliance–which he would promptly follow with freshman mistakes. At Belmont, just 45 miles from his home in Dickson, TN, things looked different. He scored an efficient and important twelve points while dishing out three assists.

Thursday he was even more efficient, and he looked even more confident. Lewis finished with a career-high 13 points in 18 minutes. He hit back-to-back 3-pointers at the end of the first half, and he went on an important 5-0 run late in the second half. Turnovers are still concerning, but the days of careless over-dribbling seem to be in the past.

Mo Alie-Cox has been the most exciting freshman as of late, but JeQuan Lewis is starting to give him some serious competition.

Notes

  • After missing two games due to an undisclosed family matter, Terrance Shannon was dressed but did not play any minutes. Coach Smart said it’s not a big issue and “he just has to work himself back” after missing five days.
  • After missing four straight games with a sprained right knee, Jordan Burgess scored four points in 10 minutes of action.

5 stats

  • Coach Smart only used nine players. It is the first time he has used fewer than ten all season.
  • JeQuan Lewis (2-2) was the only Ram to shoot over .500 from the charity stripe. VCU finished 8 of 17 from the line.
  • EKU finished 19 of 30 (.633) from 2-point range.
  • Thirteen 3-pointers by VCU is the most since 2/2/13 when they hit 13 of 35 against Fordham.
  • Both teams attempted 55 shots on Thursday. It is the first time all season that VCU hasn’t attempted more shots than their opponent.

Looking forward

VCU hosts rival Old Dominion on Sunday, December 8th at 1:30 PM. The game will be televised on Comcast SportsNet.

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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning and barbecue sauce.

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