Win over Alabama shows VCU’s pieces starting to fall into place

D.J. Haley had six points, six rebounds and two blocks in VCU’s win over Alabama. (Photo by Chris Conway)

Jim Swing
Sports Editor

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What Saturday night panned out to be wasn’t about the return of Anthony Grant.

It wasn’t about what he left behind after three years of coaching at VCU. No, it wasn’t about David Hinton, the last remaining player on the Rams roster to play under Grant, the guy who gave him a chance as a walk-on four years ago.

All of that was irrelevant Saturday night in VCU’s 73-54 rout of Alabama.

What mattered was the way the Rams would respond to a not-so-great outing in a win over Old Dominion over a week ago, which was followed by an eight-day break.

“You never know what you’re going to get when you’re coming off an eight-day layoff,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said.

What he got was an all-around dominating performance that broke down Alabama and showed that the pieces are starting to fall into place.

And it started early. Real early to be exact, when VCU jumped out to an 11-2 lead. Alabama turned the ball over nine times and hadn’t scored a field goal 11:10 into the first half.

It was “Havoc” at its finest, even Smart agreed.

“On the defensive end, the first half that we were able to play was impressive,” Smart said. “If you take some of the fouls at the end of the first half, that’s as good as we’ve defended in awhile.”

VCU’s offense was no slouch either. This wasn’t supposed to be one of those games where Smart would play Juvonte Reddic in limited minutes, but he did. This was Alabama – albeit a depleted Alabama – from the SEC.

Reddic – VCU’s second-leading scorer and top rebounder – played just 15 minutes, racking up four points and five rebounds. He made room for 7-footer D.J. Haley, who had struggled up to this point, scoring just 2.2 point a game and 1.3 rebounds.

But Saturday showcased a different Haley. A bigger, more aggressive Haley on both ends of the court not shown all season, that scored six points, grabbed six rebounds and recorded two blocks.

“That’s the DJ that we know and love,” Smart said.

Haley wasn’t the only VCU player who came to fruition. Melvin Johnson, the freshman said to have a deadly long-range jumper, put his services on display. He shot 3-for-4 from deep and tied his career-high of 12 points in just 16 minutes. Johnson said his confidence wasn’t where it usually is, but he feels he’s adjusted to the speed of the game.

“I got the title as a shooter,” Johnson said. “So people expect me to make shots.”

Johnson was the perfect compliment to his sharp-shooting companion Troy Daniels, who lit Alabama up for a team-high 16 points on 4-of-11 shooting from deep.

The pair followed each other’s three-pointers with ones of their own on three separate occasions.

Still hampering from a sprained knee, guard Darius Theus played 27 minutes, up from his 16 minutes against ODU.

Theus was stout on defense, notching a team-high three steals to go with three points, three rebounds and two assists.

Smart said Theus still isn’t 100 percent, but he’s made a great deal of progress since the injury happened in a game against Stetson over two weeks ago.

But the real progression has come on the front of VCU’s whole part. The Rams showed just how deep and dangerous of a team they can be against a quality opponent.

Four players scoring double-digits and nine of the 12 active players on the roster receiving double-digit minutes is no accident, it’s part of the plan.

“I think everybody was on edge for all 40 minutes tonight,” Theus said. “If we’re into it like that then we’re very unstoppable.”

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