PORTLAND, OREGON-VCU men’s basketball fell short against the Ohio State University in the second round of the NCAA tournament, 75-72, ending the collegiate careers of seniors Treveon Graham, Briante Weber and Jarred Guest, the winningest class in the program’s history.
With Weber sidelined, Graham, Guest and the rest of the men’s basketball team did all they could to silence OSU’s D’Angelo Russell. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year started the game 1-5, shooting for two points in the games’ first 15 minutes. VCU up 12, a three-pointer by Russell with 5:10 remaining in the first would spark and 8-0 run. A Russell jumper would bring the Buckeyes within one, 30-29, but see VCU enter the half with the lead.
OSU ended the first half on a 16-2 run. VCU scored just two points in the final 4 ½ minutes of the first.
“Well I thought we played with good aggressiveness for the first 12 or so minutes of the first half,” said Shaka Smart, head coach. “Then Ohio State was really able to gain the aggressiveness advantage in the later part of the half. That was the difference really as they were able to come back and cut the lead down.”
Early In the second, OSU led. The Rams tied, 45-45, behind sophomore guard Doug Brook nine points in the first six minutes of the second half, all from three. Brooks finished with 14 overall.
VCU largest lead of the second was five with under 10 minutes to play.
Down by four with 2:26 remaining, junior Melvin Johnson, who had been cold from three the entire game, hit six of his 17 total points off back-to-back shots from long distance. A dunk by OSU’s Amir Williams would tie the game at 66 with 1:16 remaining in the game.
VCU’s last possession of the regulation saw Graham go to the basket with traffic but the Freight Train was unable to draw the foul, sending the game in overtime.
In overtime, turnovers started to catchup to the Rams. A turnover by Brooks with three minutes to play in overtime led to a three-point score by OSU’s Keita Bates-Diop for a 71-68 lead with 2:34 remaining.
Both teams forced 11 turnovers, but Smart said he felt the team made some out-of-character turnovers late in the game.
A layup by Shannon Scott after a Johnson jumper brought the game within three, 73-70, with 1:49 remaining.
VCU had the opportunity to tie late off an open three-point shot by Graham, but the ball would rim out. Graham finished with 10 points, shooting 3-12 from the floor.
“It’s a shot he’s made before,” said Smart. “We’ll take that again all day. He just didn’t make it. Ohio State was able to capitalize in overtime”
A pair of free-throws iced the game for OSU and ended the collegiate careers of the seniors.
OSU had the advantage in the paint early on scoring at will. Redshirt-sophomore Mo Alie-Cox rim protection stiffened and forced a lot of misdirection inside the paint where OSU was having the most success. The key factor for Alie-Cox was foul trouble, which caused the big man to never find a rhythm and miss significant time. In 20 minutes total, Alie-Cox scored seven points and seven rebounds, but fouled out with 2:43 remaining in the second half. Graham and Guest would play center but Alie-Cox’s presence against the much larger OSU was sorely missed throughout.
“Mo was never able to get a flow in the second half,” Smart said. “That was disappointing. He’s a huge component of what we do. Our attack is just much, much different without him on the floor.”
OSU held the advantage inside the paint, 40-22 but the Rams missed key opportunities inside.
Russell finished with 28 points and six rebounds. Russell was injured late in the second half by a inadvertent Brooks elbow but returned.
“He’s a good player,” said Lewis, who finished with 11 points. “He just stayed aggressive and took his team to victory.”
Smart tried to minimize Russell with the double team off the ball and Brooks defending, who was limited by foul trouble.
“It was a challenging game from a foul trouble and foul period standpoint,” said Smart. “You know, we knew Doug was going to be by far the best defender we had on Russell. But he wasn’t able to guard Russell for the first half because he wasn’t in the game.”
Averaging 10 threes a game in the A-10 tournament, Smart’s team shot 10-26 (38.5-percent) from long distance. VCU finished the game 24-63 (38.1-percent) from the floor. OSU scored 12 second-chance points to VCU’s 11. OSU finished seven greater than VCU in fastbreak points.
“It was a tough loss,” said Smart. “Really, really tough loss for us. Our guys fought and really battled, which our guys have done all year”