It was ugly, but Virginia Commonwealth University willed their way to their 9th straight victory by beating Lehigh 59-55 Saturday night at the Siegel Center.
It was ugly, but Virginia Commonwealth University willed their way to their 9th straight victory by beating Lehigh, 59-55, Saturday night at the Siegel Center.
After beating Western Kentucky 76-44, Jon Rothstein asked Coach Smart, “Are you ready for the Atlantic 10?” Smart responded, “No, we need four more conference games because that’s what we have.” Tonight was the final of those four games.
Lehigh boasts an extremely efficient offense, and the Rams are coming off one of the highest scoring three-game stretches in VCU history, but Saturday ended up being a slowed-paced, low-scoring game. Lehigh struggled with turnovers, VCU struggled with fouls, and both teams struggled with shooting.
VCU’s defense limited the effectiveness of CJ McCollum (25.7PPG) while Lehigh’s defense was stout against the red-hot Troy Daniels. Daniels hit two early threes before Lehigh shut him down for most of the game. Every time Daniels elevated, he had two defenders in his face. He started trying to shot fake into passes, but his efforts were often fruitless.
Meanwhile, the Mountain Hawks kept the Rams out of the lane. VCU couldn’t get any dribble penetration off screens, and Juvonte Reddic struggled with fouls and double teams. Treveon Graham had some success attacking the rim, but his 17 points were inefficient after shooting 1-10 from 3-point range. With the Rams’ “Big 3” struggling, Rob Brandenberg stepped up and made several great plays on offense attacking the rim with his athleticism. He finished with 11 points.
CJ McCollum played the first fifteen minutes of the game before leaving with a left foot injury. Less than a minute after he went to the bench, Lehigh overcame VCU’s 27-17 lead with a 13-2 run to finish the first half.
Dealing with foul trouble, Darius Theus, Juvonte Reddic, Rob Brandenberg, and Jarred Guest were all supposed to return and give VCU a second half surge. They didn’t. Every time VCU took the lead, one time by as many as six points, Lehigh responded by drawing a timely foul or draining a 3-pointer.
With 1:53 remaining, Troy Daniels hit his only three of the second half and pushed VCU’s lead to 4 points, but Anthony D’Orazio immediately answered cutting the lead back to two with 30 seconds remaining. Darius Theus responded by grabbing a steal, hitting two free-throws, and blocking a shot in only seven seconds of game time.
Treveon Graham tacked on two more points but the lead was already safe. VCU outlasted an experienced and talented team in a 16-round slugfest, something they failed to do just two months earlier at home against Wichita State. It turns out coach was right. Over the past four games, Troy Daniels emerged as an ELITE scoring threat for the Rams and VCU won a slow tempoed battle against a tough opponent despite adversity. Now it’s time for the Atlantic 10.
- Shaka Smart’s jacket: 18:19 in the 1st half.
- Loudest moment: 107dB. Troy Daniels knocked his second 3-pointer with 8:59 remaining in the first half. Even before tipoff, the crowd was enthusiastic for #30 in the wake of his recent shooting success.
Top performer: Darius Theus
6PTS, 1REB, 2AST, 1TO, 1BLK, 6STL
Before Briante Weber came to campus, six steals was a jaw dropping number even at a steal-oriented program like VCU. Theus lives in the shadow of Weber when it comes to flashy numbers, but the senior guard is the Ram’s leader and maybe even their best defender (despite what Jay Bilas says).
At the start of the game, it was the Theus who shut down the nation’s leading scorer. At the end of the game it was Theus’s steal, block, and free-throws that potentially changed the outcome. After being the difference against Drexel in the CAA Tournament and making the clutch shot against Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament, Darius Theus is clearly the player to have on the court come clutch time.
Lehigh’s CJ McCollum entered Saturday’s contest as the nation’s leading scorer at 25.7PPG. 31 NBA scouts including several general managers were in the Siegel Center to see how the future NBA player would perform against one of the toughest defenses in college basketball. Darius Theus drew the defensive assignment early in the game, and he did an excellent job of stopping the prolific scorer. When Theus went to the bench, Rob Brandenberg also limited the star.
In the first half, after playing 15 minutes, McCollum left the game with a left foot injury. After the game, coach Brett Reed was careful with his words and never specifically confirmed it was a broken, but McCollum was seen during the game saying, “I broke my foot.” The senior guard finished the game 0-5 from the field with four points on free-throws.
- McCollum left the game 0-5 from the field. It was the first time in his 111-game career that he didn’t score a basket.
- Darius Theus tallied his 352nd and 353rd career assists moving him past Kenny Harris into 9th all-time at VCU.
- VCU shot an abysmal .185 from 3-point range, their lowest percentage in 32 games.
- The Rams shot 10-11 (.909) from the charity stripe, their highest percentage in 80 games.
- The Rams are 12-3. It is their best start since 2007 when they beat Duke in the NCAA Tournament.
VCU opens Atlantic 10 play when they host the Dayton Flyers on Wednesday, January 9th at 7:00 PM. In honor of the Ram’s first official A-10 contest, the game is officially a “stripe out.”
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