Recap: VCU wins nail biter in Normal

It was far from flashy, but VCU picked up a quality blue-collar win over Illinois State in Normal, Illinois Tuesday night.

Virginia Commonwealth University erased a 12-point deficit en route to a quality 66-62 win over Illinois State Tuesday night in Normal, Illinois. The comeback wasn’t flashy, but the Rams won thanks to a handful of blue-collar plays in the final minutes.


Deja vu: Illinois State jumped out to 11-1 and 20-8 leads behind impressive 3-point shooting that conjured flashbacks of ODU’s shooting performance against VCU on Saturday.

The Redbirds never cooled-off from range and VCU never settled down offensively, but turnovers limited ISU’s opportunities and propelled VCU to a victory despite abysmal shooting. The Redbirds finished 20-40 (7-13 3PFG) from the field while the Rams finished 22-65.

The Rams received a huge defensive boost around the six minute mark when Briante Weber entered the game after inexplicably sitting the first fourteen minutes for “team reasons”. Jonathan Williams started in his place and JeQuan Lewis played plenty of minutes but neither were particularly effective.

VCU turned the Redbirds over just three times in the 14 minutes while Weber rode the pine. After the six minute mark, ISU turned the ball over 21 times.

The little things

With 4:06 remaining, a Treveon Graham layup tied the game at 60. One minute later he stole the ball and took it the distance to put VCU up 62-60. But little plays, not big shots, were the deciding factor on Tuesday.

Jordan Burgess drew an unheralded offensive foul from big man Reggie Lynch, the centerpiece of ISU’s late game plan, with 2:48 remaining. Then he secured a man-sized offensive rebound at the 1:12 mark to set up Melvin Johnson free-throws. The play won’t earn him the nickname “Big Board Jo”, but it was crucial.

Mo Alie-Cox’s back-to-back missed free-throws will overshadow his back-to-back blocks in the final minute. The first of which was an impressive block under the basket on big man Reggie Lynch which Alie-Cox encored 4-seconds later by blocking a Daishon Knight 3-pointer.

These little plays in a hostile road environment on the second day of December won’t be remembered when the book closes on the regular season, but they are the little things that could transform this team as they try to mature in the wake of two tough losses.

The victory doesn’t dismiss any of VCU’s early season concerns: half-court offense, half-court defense, fouls, and free-throw shooting. But it was an important learning experience and the Rams did piece together enough possessions to earn a win that will look a lot more impressive in March.

The Redbirds are a far different team than the one VCU beat 96-58 last November. They have the talent to finish 3rd behind Wichita State and Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Top performer: Melvin Johnson

19 points (0-4 2PFG, 5-10 3PFG), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, 2 turnovers

Johnson wasn’t much of a factor down the stretch, but he was the difference maker when the Rams needed a spark to get back in the game. With Briante Weber watching from the bench, Johnson was the most energetic player on the court and he picked apart the Redbirds’ 2-3 zone in the first half as VCU erased a 12-point deficit to bring it within two points at halftime.

5 stats

  • VCU is 19-1 in December since the 2011 Final Four run.
  • The Rams rank 311th in defensive 3-point percentage at 39.7%. Last season they finished 12th at 30.3%.
  • VCU has rebounded 37.3% of its misses this season. That’s the best ever for a Coach Smart team.
  • Briante Weber’s three steals tie him at 3rd all-time in the Atlantic 10 with Tim Winn (SBU).
  • Treveon Graham’s 17 points propels him into 13th all-time at VCU for scoring with 1,471 points.

Looking forward

VCU hosts #7 UVA Saturday at 2:00 PM. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.

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Aaron Williams

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

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