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Rams rally past Redbirds

Shaka Smart is 2-0 against Illinois State the past two seasons and will look to go 2-0 against UVA in Saturday's crucial non-conference matchup.
Shaka Smart is 2-0 against Illinois State over the past two seasons and will look to go 2-0 against UVA in Saturday’s crucial non-conference matchup.

VCU once again found themselves down big early against another tough road opponent, but this time dug themselves out of a hole en route to grinding out a 66-62 victory at Illinois State (3-3).

The black and gold torched ISU last season, jumping out to a 30-point halftime lead, but this time it was the Redbirds that did the early damage, opening the game on a 20-8 run thanks to some hot shooting beyond the arc.

Illinois State had struggled to hit shots from range as a team heading into this one but connected on five of their first seven long-range attempts to open the game with a 25-14 lead. The Rams weathered the early storm then chipped away throughout the first half, heading into the lockers down 35-33.

Jordan Burgess gave the Rams their first lead by connecting on an and-1 with 16:17 to play, then the teams traded leads in a back-and-forth affair until a four unanswered Treveon Graham points gave VCU the advantage for good at the 3:11 mark.

Illinois State shot an impressive 50% on the game including a 53.8% mark from deep but 24 turnovers ultimately doomed the Redbirds. VCU shot just 33.8% from the field on the game but held a 25-attempt advantage thanks to their patented “havoc” defense.

Briante Weber was a major piece of that defensive pressure but did not enter the game until 14 minutes in with the Rams trailing 29-20. VCU outscored Illinois State, 46-33, once Weber entered the game. Coach Smart following the game that Weber was benched for a “team reason”.

Melvin Johnson led the black and gold with a game-high 19 points. All five of his field goals game from distance. Johnson added three steals, four rebounds and two assists in the win.

Treveon Graham chipped in 17 points of his own as he whittles away at Eric Maynor’s all-time scoring record. Graham added seven rebounds, three assists and a steal for VCU.

Mo Alie-Cox and Jordan Burgess both grabbed a game-high eight rebounds. Burgess added 10 points for VCU.

The win moves VCU to 5-2 heading into a highly anticipated home matchup against the No.7 nationally ranked UVA Cavaliers. VCU was ranked 14th but fell out of the rankings after a unimpressive showing against then No.12 Villanova followed by a road loss at unranked Old Dominion.

After taking on UVA the Rams will host Northern Iowa in a rematch of a loss from last season. The Panthers sit just outside of the national rankings at No.26 according AP voters. VCU is No.30 on that list and No.26 in the coaches poll. A big week could find the black and gold right back in both polls.

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