Recap: Short-handed VCU tops Tennessee

Despite a suspension, an injury, and fouls, VCU topped Tennessee Friday night to open the season with a W.

Virginia Commonwealth University topped Tennessee 85-69 Friday night in Annapolis, Maryland.


Despite the suspension of Briante Weber, injury of JeQuan Lewis, and foul trouble of Jonathan Williams, VCU’s offense scored enough points to outpace the Volunteers. Melvin Johnson scored early and often which compensated for the otherwise sluggish Rams.

Midway through the first half, JeQuan Lewis hit his head on the ground and suffered a concussion. Way too common in college and professional football where players’ reactions are masked by helmets, it was particularly disturbing because of how easy it was to watch Lewis’s face. He was carried off the court but returned to the bench in the second half.

Lewis played five minutes. Freshman point guard Williams was steady but fouled out in 13 minutes and walk-on Torey Burston only played 3 minutes. Jordan Burgess, Doug Brooks, and Treveon Graham all handled the ball some to compensate. Despite the lack of a point guard, the Rams scored plenty of points against the Volunteers’ difficult 2-3 matchup zone.

A huge driver on the offensive end was offensive rebounding. The Rams’ rebounded 23 of their 37 misses including huge put-back jams by Michael Gilmore and Jordan Burgess. Jarred Guest played his role to perfection as he tallied five man-sized o-boards in only 12 minutes of action. It’s still early and last night was against zone (which usually results in rebounding opportunities), but this team has the tools to frustrate opponents and pick up second chance points on the glass.

No player embodied the story of the night more than Treveon Graham. The Rams’ were short-handed, didn’t shoot particularly well, didn’t defend particularly well, turned over the ball 18 times, fouled 28 times, and shot 60% from the charity stripe but still routed an SEC team. Graham went 3-of-13 and never found his momentum but finished with 15 points, 14 rebounds, and 2 assists. At some point this season, Johnson and Graham will catch fire at the same time. The results will be terrifying.

Top performer: Melvin Johnson

23 points (4-6 2PFG, 5-11 3PFG), 3 assists, 2 steals

Johnson caught fire early en route to 20 first half points. He channeled plenty of Troy Daniels as he hit four of his first five 3-point attempts including several NBA range bombs. On a night when Treveon Graham struggled to score with consistency, Melvin Johnson was the spark plug the Rams needed to win by double digits.

5 stats

  • VCU has now won 9-straight season openers.
  • Including the scrimmage and exhibition game, Melvin Johnson is averaging 23 PPG and is 16-of-29 from 3-point range.
  • VCU’s offensive rebounding percentage was .469. The best season average of Smart’s career was .366 in 2013.
  • VCU finished 24-of-40 from the charity stripe. 16 is the most missed free-throws ever by a Coach Smart team.
  • Upset with the physical play of Dominic Woods, Coach Smart picked up a rare technical foul. His first was against Kansas in the Elite 8 and his second was against Stetson.

Looking forward

The Rams’ home-opener is against Toledo on Tuesday at 6PM. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU. The Rockets finished last season 27-7 and return most of their talent including sophomore guard Jonathan Williams – yes, this will get confusing.

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Aaron Williams

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

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