Category Archives: Sports

Bowden’s Breakdown

Malik Bowden’s Basketball Blog

Ram Nation, it’s safe to say the ship has not sunk yet. After beating George Mason on the road then falling to St. Bonaventure on a last second lay up the Rams were searching for some way to stop the bleeding. When the VCU took on La Salle in their first home game since their Richmond loss the contest had more meaning the usual. Fans wore white headbands and shirts that read “In 2 we trust” paying homage to VCU’s injured point guard Briante Weber. Not only would VCU take the court without Weber they also played without Treveon Graham for the second straight game, he was battling the high ankle sprain that he sustained against Rhode Island, and has still been bothering him.

VCU went with a rotation that appeared to be a tease of the future for VCU fans as they started Jequan Lewis, Melvin Johnson, Jordan Burgess, Justin Tillman, and Mo Alie Cox. Four of those five players will almost be guaranteed starters next year so this was a good opportunity for the Rams to see how life will be in the A-10 without their three seniors. VCU fought tooth, and nail with La Salle as they leaned on Jequan Lewis to keep them in the game. Lewis made tough baskets, and timely free throws. Although the Rams were not able to keep the ball out of the hands of La Salle’s best player, Jordan Price, who calmly hit the game tying three to send the game to overtime. In overtime Jordan price scored 12 of his game high 34 points, he also finished with a monstrous 18 rebounds, and five assists. The Rams fell to La Salle and dropped to 8-3 in conference play. The rest of the season began to feel like an uphill battle as VCU would have to travel to the nation’s capital and play George Washington.

The best news early Saturday prior to the game was that VCU’s leading scorer, Treveon Graham, start after missing two straight games in which the Rams lost, and it showed instantly how much the Rams missed their senior leader. Although he struggled with fouls he did hit some tough shots that you would only expect from one of the top scores in VCU history. VCU was able to pressure GW and discombobulate their offense. In the second half the Rams outscored the Colonels 41-28 thanks to some sharp shooting from sophomore Doug Brook who finished with 14 points and seven rebounds to lead the charge off the bench. VCU had four other players score in double figures with Melvin Johnson leading the team in scoring with 17 points while only taking nine shots.

With the win the Rams improved to 9-3 in conference play, and simultaneously avoiding a three game losing streak which would have been the first ever under Coach Smart. VCU will have their rematch with St. Louis this coming Tuesday at home, and Saturday they will play UMASS who is in a four way tie for first place with VCU, Dayton and Rhode Island.

Bowden’s Breakdown

Malik Bowden’s Basketball Blog

Last week taught VCU that you should never get overconfident during your success, and you cannot afford to sulk too much during your failures. After the Rams obliterated a top A-10 team in George Washington on Tuesday by 24 points, and had an article published about them on ESPN’s website about how dangerous of a team they’ll be in the month March, VCU saw their winning streak evaporate at the hands of their rivals the Richmond Spiders. Along with their first loss in over seven weeks Ram nation lost one of the most irreplaceable players in the country for the season in senior point guard, and leader Briante Weber.

On January 27 VCU turned what was supposed to be a picture perfect matchup on paper into a one sided rout of the George Washington Colonials 72-48. Entering the game George Washington was tied with Dayton for second place in the conference, and possessed a starting line up with four players that could handle the basketball against VCU’s full court pressure. At halftime the Rams lead 29-21 but the score didn’t show the true gap of how much VCU outplayed GW. In the second half the Rams proceeded to steamroll GW. VCU turned the colonials over 16 times. Three more turnovers than what GW averages, and held them to 26 percent shooting from the field, and five percent from the three point line. VCU’s pesky half-court defense proved that getting the ball across half court is only the tip of the iceberg when trying to score against them.

On the offensive end VCU fans were given a peak into the future where VCU will lean on Terry Larrier to lead them in scoring. On this night Larrier saw that senior guard Treveon Graham was struggling, and decided to pick up the slack leading the Rams with 15 points on only seven field goal attempts. The Rams also received double digit scoring outputs from Mo Alie-Cox(10 points), and JeQuan Lewis(13 points). VCU extended their winning streak to 12 games, and comfortably placed themselves in the driver’s seat of the Atlantic-10 conference.

That Saturday the Siegel center was sold out yet again with an all-black theme as the Richmond Spiders attempted to end the 12 game winning streak that VCU carried into the matchup. The game started with the Rams having full control with highlight blocks from Mo Alie-Cox, and the scoring spread almost evenly throughout the Rams rotation. VCU went into the locker room up 28-22 in a game they had the potential to break open similar to their previous opponent.

Although in the second half Richmond not only answered VCU’s strong first half performance but out executed them for virtually all of the final 20 minutes,  outscoring VCU 42-27, and taking advantage of some ill-advised shots by the Rams. Richmond also leaned on their senior do it all guard Kendall Anthony who was without a doubt the best player on the floor in the second half. Anthony finished the game scoring 22 points, 20 of them came in the second half.

As the Rams tried to make a comeback that ended up falling nine points short the biggest loss of the day came when Briante Weber attempted to make a pass and came down awkwardly on his knee going down to the floor grimacing in pain. He was helped off the court, and finished the game on the sideline in crutches. Later that night VCU announced that Weber, only 12 steals away from the NCAA career record, had suffered from a torn ACL, MCL, and meniscus, and won’t be able to finish the season. Ram fans were all saddened by the news. Shaka Smart has yet to speak on the injury, and will have to rally his team around Briante in a situation similar to Kevin Ware when Louisville went on to win the national championship two years ago. The Rams had lost their first game in over seven weeks, and will look to get back on track when they travel to Fairfax to take on the George Mason Patriots who are currently 2-6 in conference play.

Bowden’s Breakdown

Malik Bowden’s Men’s Basketball Blog

Last Friday’s game against St. Louis resulted in a clutch win for the Rams, and another memorable moment added to Treveon Graham’s legacy. In the only game of the week for the Rams they traveled to the mid-west to take on the St. Louis Billikens. In the past few years these two teams have developed a rivalry. Last year the Rams split the season series winning at home by 11 in a game where students camped out for the best seats. In the other tilt last season the Rams fell short by two points after making a late game comeback where they once trailed by 11 points.

Last Fridays game was nothing short of stellar. The Rams and Billikens traded blows with each other, no team could pull away. VCU once lead by eight with 9:23 left in the first half, but Saint Louis answered outscoring the rams 20-10 in the last9:05 of the half. At the break the teams were locked in a 34-34 tie. Even with the Rams more experienced lineup Saint Louis was able to rally around their young team primarily made of sophomores, and freshmen to stay competitive in this game.

The second half was much of the same story. As much pressure as the Rams gave their opponent they could only build a six point lead at best. A bright spot throughout the game was VCU’s improved patience, and execution in the half court. Although they didn’t capitalize on all their open looks by only shooting 36.7 % the first step in having a good half-court offense is to get good looks. As the game came down to the finals seconds VCU found themselves in a national upset alert, down two points with 42 seconds left after a Saint Louis jumper.

With the game hanging in the balance the Rams calmly answered with Briante getting in the lane and finding Jordan Burgess in the opposite corner for a cold blooded three ball that happened to be his only points of the night, putting VCU up 61-60 with 19 seconds left. Saint Louis then was able to tie the game on a questionable lose ball foul called on Jordan, and tied the game up on a made free throw. VCU called their last timeout with seven seconds on the clock. As the team came back on the floor the final point would be decided by the two players on the floor with the most experience. Luckily both of those players happened to be wearing black, and gold. The ball was initially passed to Briante then pitched cross court to Treveon, and the freight train earned his nickname by driving the length of the floor finishing at the rim through contact given by the Billikens, and putting the Rams up by two with a second left. Saint Louis called a timeout to set up a long Hail Mary play that turned out to be unsuccessful, and the Rams escaped still unbeaten in conference play. VCU extend their winning streak to 11 games now. Treveon led the team in scoring with 21 points, and six rebounds. Briante also stepped up adding 15 points to the Rams effort.

VCU will finally return home after a three game road trip to take on the second best team in the A-10, George Washington this coming Tuesday, and Saturday the Rams will play cross town rival Richmond on Saturday. With two wins this week, and possible upsets across the nation the Rams could find themselves inching closer, and closer back to that top ten rankings in the AP Poll.

VCU Men’s Basketball Blog

The VCU Rams displayed their resiliency with a couple of tough wins on the road last week. They went on the road to defeat a quality Rhode Island team last Tuesday, 65-60, and escaped Pittsburgh with a 70-64 victory on Sunday against a very competitive Duquesne team that entered the game with a 6-9 record. At no point was it pretty, but the Rams were able to maintain their perfect A-10 record (5-0).

Last weeks’ road trip reminded us all that Treveon Graham is the best player on the team, not that many people needed a reminder. Graham sprained his ankle early in the second half, but continued to play through the injury. With a sprained ankle Graham led VCU to a sluggish victory over Rhode Island. He scored 26 points and grabbed eight rebounds. The senior was 4-8 from the three point line while the rest of the team shot an inefficient 4-16 from three point range. A Graham-less VCU team may be good enough to beat URI but, the team that showed up last Tuesday would not have defeated URI without the preseason A-10 first teamer.

Graham was expected to start against Duquesne four days after his ankle injury, however a last minute decision kept him from playing. Against lowly Duquesne, Graham’s absence was an opportunity for the younger players to get extended playing time to the team as a whole. Freshman, Terry Larrier got to start in place of Treveon Graham, Larrier averages 16 minutes per game this year, but he only played 11. The freshman scored 5 points; he shot 1-3 from three point range and made both of his free throws.

The player who filled the scoring void left by Graham was JeQuan Lewis; the sophomore led all scorers with 16 points. Lewis also dished out five assists and only one turnover in his 29 minutes of play. Lewis is one of the most talented offensive players on the team but he is also mistake prone. The Rams could use a breakout second half of the season by the sophomore. Doug Brooks quietly contributed 10 first half points in only nine minutes of action. Brooks’ game is really evolving from last year when he unsuccessfully threw up as many threes as possibly. Now the sophomore is showing an ability to drive to the basket and otherwise contribute inside the three point arc. His increase in minutes from his first season with VCU until now is undoubtedly due to his improvements on defense. Last year he was a liability on defense, most notably in the Ram’s NCAA tournament loss.  Unfortunately Brooks suffered a knee injury and did not play in the second half. His status for Friday’s game against St. Louis in doubtful.

With Brooks’ first half production, VCU looked like they were in control of the game against Duquesne when the Rams led by 14 at half. The Dukes did not succumb to VCU’s pressure in the second half as they outscored the Rams by eight points. With about 2:30 to play the Dukes put themselves within two points from tying the then 17th ranked Rams. VCU was able to hit some shots to create a little separation but the lead was never significant due to poor free throw shooting from the Rams. That is an issue that will surely cost VCU later on in the season.

Last week was a wakeup call to the AP’s 16th best team in the country. Treveon Graham is a huge part of what separates VCU from average Division 1 teams. There is no doubt that VCU possesses loads of talent but right now they are not ready to step into this aggressive Havoc system and contribute at a high. VCU is 15-3 and 5-0 in the A-10. The Rams are ranked 16th in the AP Top 25 poll. How much further can they climb in the polls? The answer is simple, the Rams will go however far Treveon Graham takes them. That’s not to say other players are not vital to VCU’s success. The Rams have nine players who average over 10 minutes per game. VCU needs everyone to produce but they rely on their star senior, Treveon Graham to handle of most of the heavy lifting.

VCU Defeats Davidson 71-65

The VCU Rams (12-3, 2-0) defeated the Davidson Wildcats (10-3, 1-1) in their first of two matchups this season 71-65 and handed the Wildcats their first loss ever in the Atlantic 10 conference. In the process, the Rams extended their winning streak to seven games and remain undefeated in the A-10 earning their second win in the conference. VCU senior, Treveon Graham, led the Rams in scoring and rebounds posting a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

VCU did not shoot the ball particularly well from the floor shooting 42%, but they were able to spread the scoring distribution amongst multiple players as their depth proved to be a clear advantage throughout. The Rams bench outscored the Wildcats bench 29-16 and nine players scored for the Rams. New York City natives, Melvin Johnson and Terry Larrier, both contributed 11 points for the Rams.

VCU’s defense held the nation’s third best scoring team to 20 points under their season average and also made Davidson’s leading scorer, Jack Gibbs, a non-factor. Gibbs was not able to establish any sort of rhythm offensively on the court shooting 1-10 from the field. Gibbs was held without a field goal in the first 35 minutes of the game. Gibbs was able to cash in from the free throw line making all eight of his free throws and finished with 11 points in the game. VCU point guard, Briante Weber, pointed out that Jack Gibbs is an amazing player, but they made it a point of emphasis to take him out the game.

“All we could hear the coaches talking about was he just had 32 points on Richmond, he’s an excellent player,” VCU Senior Briante Weber said. “I’m pretty sure the team and I definitely got fed up hearing Jack Gibbs. They have a three-headed monster with those three guards (Jack Gibbs, Tyler Kalinowski, and Brian Sullivan). We would key on him, because he is the head of the snake. You take him out, we can contain the other two.”

Davidson only made 37% of their field goals, which is well below their average from the field as they have shot 48% from the field this season. Davidson also shot below their average from three-point range shooting 36% from three-point land. VCU’s trademarked havoc-style defense was able to force Davidson to turn the ball over 15 times. Davidson’s lack of depth showed throughout the game as their three-headed monster scored 46 of the teams 65 points. Sullivan and Kalinowski each played 38 minutes and Tyler Kalinoski played the entire game before fouling out with eight seconds left in the game. Sullivan led the team in scoring with 19 points and Kalinoski also contributed with 16 points for the Wildcats.

We struggled more to run our half-court offense than we did in any other part of the season and we’ve played against some pretty darn good defensive teams” Davidson coach, Bob McKillop said. “That’s a credit to Shaka and his team that they’re not just a pressing team, but they continue their defense into the half-court.”

“I think that we have a lot of guys that can come in and help us if they are in the right frame of mind,” Smart said. “You got to have a clear head for helping your team win and playing for one another. The reality is I think that all the guys on the bench would love to be starters, but that might not be their role. If they accept that and we all have a clear head for helping our team win, than we can continue getting better be a very good team. That’s a daily process and that’s a choice that our guys have to continue to make.”

Briante Weber had four steals for the Rams and is now tied with Cookie Belcher for fourth place on the NCAA all-time career steals with 353 steals. Weber needs 33 more steals to break NCAA all-time steals record.

The Rams will have the opportunity to sweep the Wildcats win the regular season when they play again on March 5 at Davidson.

The Rams return to action on Saturday at 2:00 against the reigning A-10 champions, the Saint Joseph’s Hawks (6-7, 0-2) on WVCW.ORG. The Rams lost to the Hawks twice last season as the Hawks won in Philadelphia and in the finals of the A-10 Basketball Tournament in March. The Rams will look to exact revenge against the Hawks in their only regular season matchup to extend their winning streak to eight games.

Bowden’s (non-conference) Breakdown

Malik Bowden’s Men’s Basketball Blog

As we say goodbye to one year, and bring in another one we also say farewell to the strongest out of conference schedule VCU has played under Coach Smart’s tenure. VCU’s strength of schedule as of January 4th was ranked eighth in the country, and second among mid majors. Going into the season the Rams schedule was headlined by a neutral site game against Villanova, and a home rematch against Virginia. Along the way VCU faced some stiff competition, Toledo in their home opener, a double overtime thriller against Northern Iowa, and a closer than expected win over Illinois State.

The low point of the OOC schedule was the close lost to in state rival Old Dominion. The Rams met expectations in terms of wins, and growth. They finished non-conference play with a record of 10-3, and two of the losses for sure (Villanova, and UVA) won’t be frowned upon by the NCAA selection committee come March.

VCU also was able to get four of the five freshmen into the rotation at different times for them to be able to make mistakes, learn, and mature for when they’ll be called upon later on in the season. Freshman Terry Larrier saw the most playing time among the freshmen and showed glimpses of the prolific scorer he could become. Jonathan Williams struggled in the beginning of the season but has recently picked up his play and is learning from veteran guards Briante Weber, and Jequan Lewis. Justin Tillman appears to have become comfortable with his role quicker than all the freshmen. Every minute Tillman’s on the floor he brings energy to the game. He’s shown the ability to attack the glass on both ends of the floor, and does a tremendous job at running the lanes on fast breaks which has, and will continue to result in highlight fast break dunks. Michael Gilmore is also becoming accustomed to being a high energy guy at all times. Unfortunately redshirt freshmen Antravious Simmons felt it was best for him to transfer out and play closer to home at Florida Gulf Coast.

  As far as the returning players are concerned Briante, and Jequan have shown improved point guard play. Melvin Johnson has been shooting lights out, and is better at making plays off the bounce. Jordan Burgess has been injury free so far, and is providing VCU with an added outside threat, and on ball defender. Mo is becoming a better rim protector by the game, and VCU should look to him more during conference play as a low post threat. Doug Brooks is becoming comfortable with his increase in minutes this year from his freshmen season. Jarred Guest is bringing senior leadership, and has been a model for what Michael Gilmore, and Justin Tillman can become. Another bright spot is that Torrey Burston was able to score his first points as a VCU ram against Belmont during the holiday break. 

VCU is more than prepared to compete in the A-10, and win a conference championship. They’ll have to go through Dayton, George Washington, Davidson, and Rhode Island who all have competitive teams and on any night can beat VCU. For the Rams to succeed they’ll need to make sure they  defend without fouling excessively, rebound on both ends of the floor, and find some type of low post presence when their outside shot isn’t falling. If VCU can do these things Ram Nation should expect an Automatic NCAA berth, and their first Atlantic 10 conference tournament championship.