Rams rock Redbirds by 38 in season-opener

Photo by Chris Conway.

Sterling Giles
Contributing Writer

After shooting 55 percent from the floor, VCU men’s basketball defeated Illinois State University 96-58 in the season-opener at the Siegel Center on Friday night.

Redshirt senior forward Terrance Shannon and junior guard Treveon Graham led the way for the Rams with 14 points apiece. Seniors Juvonte Reddic and Rob Brandenberg contributed 13 and 12 points, respectively.

The Rams forced a turnover on their first defensive possession and never looked back, jumping out to a 52-22 halftime lead against the Redbirds. Eleven VCU players scored and five finished in double-figures for head coach Shaka Smart.

After the game, Smart was pleased with his team’s performance, but acknowledged there is room for improvement.

“We got to get better, that’s the biggest thing,” Smart said. “We have to value the ball better. Sixteen turnovers is too many. (We had) too many fouls, and overall, defensively, I think we can turn it up a notch. We need to do that.”

The Rams forced 22 ISU turnovers on the evening despite a relatively ineffective full-court press by VCU standards.

Junior Briante Weber recorded five steals and redshirt sophomore Jordan Burgess added three of his own. Smart’s team finished with 14 steals in all.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from VCU’s season-opener was on the offensive end. The Rams shot 55 percent (36-65) from the field and 45 percent (9-20) from three-point range on the night. Seven of the nine threes came in the first half.

VCU’s ability to establish an early presence in the post helped the perimeter shooters get open looks, Shannon said after the game.

“It’s best to work inside out,” he said. “Once we started working the ball inside and they started to close down, it freed up our guards to knock down the shots.”

Sophomore guard Melvin Johnson was one of the benefactors of some open looks in the second half. Johnson knocked down three consecutive threes at one point and Brandenberg contributed two three-point shots of his own.

As effective as the Rams were from the perimeter, the team continued to struggle at the free-throw line. After shooting just 53 percent from the charity stripe in its exhibition match against California University (Penn.) last Friday, VCU shot 58 percent (15-26) from the line in its season-opener.

Also worthy of noting were VCU’s 21 personal fouls. The new defensive rule changes have increased foul frequency across the NCAA this season, and a few of Smart’s freshmen guards had trouble establishing legal guarding position at times.

Freshman point guards JeQuan Lewis and Douglas Brooks racked up six personal fouls combined in 23 minutes.

VCU travels to Charlottesville, Va. on Tuesday to take on the No. 24 University of Virginia Cavaliers at 7 p.m.

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