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The VCU men’s basketball team beat the Belmont Bruins 75-65 Saturday night in front of the 22nd consecutive sellout crowd at the Siegel Center.
“It was a really good win for us,” said head coach Shaka Smart. “Belmont has a very good team and they’re known for knocking people off on the road.”
Senior Darius Theus was unable to play with a knee injury, so sophomore Teddy Okereafor made his debut start. Belmont started the scoring with a layup and made free throw before Treveon Graham put the first VCU points on the board.
The game was close over the first 11 minutes with neither team able to extend a lead to more than three points. But after an 8-0 run by VCU and then an 18-3 run to close the half, the Rams led the Bruins 39-21.
Neither team could connect from beyond the arc until the final basket of the first half when Belmont’s Brandon Baker threw up a prayer from just inside half-court that banked in. The teams shot a combined 1-for-17 from behind the three-point line. Juvonte Reddic led the Rams with 11 points, six rebounds and two steals at the half.
The second half started in true VCU style with their opponent starting strong and the Rams seemingly slower.
“The game is played by two teams. The teams that we have played have made some plays in the second half,” said Smart. “We’ve got to step up and play with more fire and more urgency. There’s a natural tendency to relax a little bit when you have a lead, it’s something we have to get better at.”
In the first seven minutes of the second half, Belmont outscored VCU 23-11 to cut the lead to just six points. Shortly after the lead began to diminish, Briante Weber got the Siegel Center on its feet when he stole a pass and followed it with a monster slam to extend VCU’s lead to double-digits.
“It feels good,” said Weber. “The air up there is nice.”
The Rams did a good job down the stretch making baskets when they needed to keep the game just out of the Bruins’ reach.
A three-and-a-half minute scoreless streak midway through the second half was ended when Belmont’s Ian Clark knocked down a 3-pointer. Late baskets towards the end from Rob Brandenberg and Graham sealed the win for the Rams.
“This is a win that should be a very good RPI win for us down the road,” said Smart. “That 18-point lead in the first half, we needed every bit of it.”
Graham led the team with 19 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals. Reddic just narrowly missed out on his third double-double of the season with 17 points, nine rebounds, two steals and a block.
Okereafor didn’t make the most out of his start by not attempting a shot at all, and turning the ball over three times in 12 minutes played.
The surprise performance tonight came from freshman Melvin Johnson. He finished with 11 points, two rebounds and a steal.
“Yesterday during practice [coach Smart] told me, ‘You’re going to get in early and often and be ready to play some defense,’” said Johnson. “That’s all I tried to do was play some ‘D’ and offensively it just came to me.”
Coach Smart spoke highly of his freshman guard and looks forward to the coming years with him.
“I like Mel a lot; I think he’s got a really bright future,” said Smart. “He’s getting better. I’m really enthused about him and his future.”
The Rams are now 5-3 on the season and face former CAA-rivals Old Dominion in Norfolk on Friday, Dec. 7. As for whether or not Theus will be back for the game, Smart is optimistic.
“If he can play, then he’ll be back…he’s made major progress with his knee since Wednesday,” said Smart. “If he makes the same kind of progress over the next three to five days, then I’ve got a feeling he’ll make an appearance down in Norfolk.”