The men’s basketball team competed against California University of Pennsylvania in an exhibition match at the Siegel Center on Friday night, defeating the visiting Blaze 96-60. In what was head coach Will Wade’s first official contest at the helm, more than 7,600 Ram fans came out to support the first year coach.
Seniors Melvin Johnson and Korey Billbury got the start alongside juniors JeQuan Lewis and Mo Alie-Cox and sophomore Justin Tillman got the nod as well.
The Rams started off slow, with Tillman recording the first bucket of the game one minute into the first half. Turnovers were the story early, as Lewis was the beneficiary of multiple errant passes, stifling the Rams offense from getting anything done.
Wade went to his bench early, bringing in juniors Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed and Jordan Burgess to provide a tough presence on the boards. Burgess, a local Richmond product, found his niche as well, taking his defender off the dribble and converting tough buckets around the rim. Burgess made his mark at the 15:39 left in the first half, he drove down the lane to his left, he ultimately finished with his right hand for an and-1 opportunity after a sweet spin move to bring the Rowdy Rams on their feet, making the score 10-5.
“As everyone knows, Treveon Graham isn’t here anymore,” Burgess said. “I had to pick up my role for this team for us to be successful, so it’s more of a shoot-first, think-later mentality for me this year.”
Lewis, who is slated to be the team’s leader at the point guard position, struggled early with fouls and had to sit most of the first half. For the Rams, this ignited the duo of sophomore Jonathan Williams and junior Torey Burston. Both played side-by-side, attacking opposing ball handlers, offering a suffocating opposition for the Blaze guards bringing the ball up the court.
The pace of the game changed for the Rams after Billbury finished the assist by Williams off an errant Blaze pass. Wade’s pressure defensively was able to trouble the Cal(Penn.) offense into costly turnovers. Williams recorded back-to-back buckets off deflected passes and scored each in transition extending the lead 38-30 with 1:42 remaining in the first half. The Rams’ pressure on the basketball would continue and VCU kept extending the lead. Sophomore Mike Gilmore showed off his improved shooting stroke, knocking down three of his seven points at the top of the key, increasing the lead to 44-31 going into halftime.
VCU kept the pressure on as the second half commenced with Johnson getting off to a hot to start with a made three point basket, the score increased to 47-31 with 19:00 remaining in the game. “Flash” Williams and Burston would again lead the Ram defense, creating fast break opportunities from turnovers. Billbury cashed in two of his 10 points for the game on an assist by Flash off a Blaze turnover, 55-40 VCU with 12:30 remaining.
“Well, they are the two who seem to want to pressure the ball the most,” Wade said of Williams and Burtson. “(Burston) eats the ball up, I thought he changed the momentum in the first half.”
Alie-Cox had a quiet performance, suffering from foul trouble early as well as a larger defender in Cal(Penn.) Tony Richardson. His replacement, Hamdy-Mohamed, provided a much-needed presence on the offensive and defensive glass, amassing seven rebounds and six hard-earned points in 14 minutes of game action.
With 5:45 remaining in the game, Johnson would add to his scoring efforts, connecting on the final of his four three-point field goals extending the lead to 75-55. After an Alie-Cox rebound, Johnson received the outlet pass, catching his man in the air to draw the foul on a mid-range jumpshot by the foul line, 79-55 VCU.
The onslaught would continue, with VCU cruising to victory after Williams converted a fastbreak layup to increase the lead to 89-57 with 2:14 remaining. Gilmore would put everyone on their feet in the waning seconds as he was left wide open under the basket, gripping the basketball in preparation for an impressive windmill dunk to end the game.
Johnson converted 20 points for the Rams, leading his team in scoring, while Burgess would go on to score 16 points off the bench on impressive drives to the basket and three-point shooting. Billbury, the Oral Roberts University transfer, finished the game with a double-double accounting for 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Freshman Samir Doughty and junior Doug Brooks did not dress out for the Rams, Brooks for team related reasons and Doughty for eligibility purposes.
“Defensively we’ve got plenty of work to do, offensively we weren’t perfect we turned the ball over too much, we were a little too jittery,” Wade said. “We are a work in progress, we have plenty of work to do and we have to get back to work Sunday to get ready to go, because certainly will be a step up in competition this next week or so.”
The Rams return to the Stu to start the 2015-16 season against Prairie View A&M University Nov. 13 at 7 p.m.
Sports Editor, Bryant Drayton
Bryant is a sports advocate thats always smiling. He is a senior print and online journalism major aspiring for a career as a professional or college football columnist. Bryant currently covers high school football games for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn