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.