VCU’s youth rallied the Rams to victory in a tough road challenge tonight, defeating the George Mason Patriots in Fairfax, 72-60.
The Rams came into this game without the services of starting point guard Briante Weber due to a season-ending knee injury, then saw fellow senior Treveon Graham re-aggravate an ankle injury after just 11 minutes of action.
Graham left the game with VCU down seven. From that point on a youthful group joined by tonight’s leading scorer, junior Melvin Johnson (17 points), rallied VCU for a 22-13 run to give the Rams a 2-point lead.
VCU’s reshmen and sophomores played with the spirit of Weber, diving on the floor for loose balls to outscore Mason 40-26 in the second half.
VCU was killed on the glass, 43-27, but managed to help erase that rebound disadvantage by forcing 18 Mason turnovers, 12 of which came in the second half.
Mo Alie-Cox was responsible for a number of those turnovers, grabbing a team-high three steals including one of which the redshirt sophomore converted into a Sports Center-worthy posterization of 6’11 Shavon Thompson to give the Rams an 8-point lead with 2:24 to play. He added another dunk a bit over a minute later to cap an 8-0 Rams run to effectively put the game out of reach with just 36 seconds to play.
Alie-Cox finished with six points, three rebounds and two blocks.
Sophomore JeQuan Lewis assisted Alie-Cox on the later of those two dunks. Lewis got the start for the injured Weber and dished a game-high four assists to go with 13 points and two steals in his 27 minutes of action.
Freshman Justin Tillman provided a huge spark off the bench for the Rams in the first half. Tillman scored 10 points on a perfect 5-5 shooting in his 16 minutes and blocked two shots for the Rams. Eight of his 10 points came in the first half when the black and gold so desperately needed some buckets.
Fellow freshman, Mike Gilmore, gave VCU six very valuable minutes off the bench. The 6’9 big checked in and hit two monster three-pointers within a three-minute span. His first three extended a two-point lead to five, his second a one-point lead to four. George Mason would get no closer than four points for the rest of the night.
Doug Brooks looked very Briante for VCU tonight. The sophomore dove for loose balls all throughout the second half and finished with the hustle line of the night at nine points, five rebounds and two steals in 19 minutes of play.
Jordan Burgess led VCU with six rebounds and added five points for the Rams.
The win moves VCU to 18-4 on the season and keeps the Rams in sole possession of first place in A-10 play at 8-1.
Coach Smart and Co. will travel to Olean, NY for a dangerous matcup against St. Bonaventure this Saturday at 2PM. The Rams return to the Siegel Center Wednesday, Feb 11 to host the Explorers of La Salle in a 7PM tip.
Postgame press conference footage courtesy VCUAthletics.com.