It was a battle of Shaka Smart’s ex-assistant coaches last Monday. Radford University Head Coach Mike Jones brought the Radford University Highlanders to the Stu on Nov. 16 for a 7 p.m. tip-off.
“It was great to come back to this place after so many years and see so many people who were so nice to me during my two years here,” Jones said. “So that was the best part of the trip, seeing some great people and getting some great hugs.”
VCU defeated Radford 92-74 in front of the 68th consecutive sell-out crowd. Senior Melvin Johnson’s sharp shooting started on the Ram’s first possession, when the Bronx native got past his defender with a pump fake and shot from the elbow for two points. Johnson led the team in scoring with 24 points.
We had a lot of respect for the program and we really prepared for the high level for this,” Johnson said. “It instilled something in us and we really wanted to get after it.”
VCU started off with a fast pace, utilizing a full-court press and contesting shots on defense. On the offensive end, the Rams were settling for quick shots early, shooting 15-34 for 44 percent.
The Highlanders battled offensively with the Rams for the first half, staying within reach. It wasn’t until the last five minutes of the first half that VCU began to take control of the game.
Junior point guard Jequan Lewis hit a big 3-point shot to get fans off their feet. Johnson followed Lewis’ momentum and on the next possession, fired up a three from the corner.
Seconds later, Johnson got a steal at the top of the key and converted the fastbreak opportunity into into a layup, expanding the lead to 38-30 with three and a half minutes to play.
VCU headed into the locker room up 11 after a 13-2 run.
VCU went into the second half with the intentions of continuing crisp play, something they struggled with in the season opener against Prairie View A&M University.
“We put on a lot of emphasis during the second half,” Johnson said.
Getting out there and a sharp layup line and getting our legs going from sitting down and I think that started a great second half for us.”
Johnson came out firing in the second half, knocking down back-to-back shots from behind the arc.
Sophomore Michael Gilmore had a career best 12 points. The night really took off for him with a smooth shooting stroke from three at the 15-minute mark, extending the lead to 52-35.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore followed up on the next possession with a heads-up spin move to break free from his defender around the basket for an easy two points.
With 13:50 remaining, Gilmore drained another 3-pointer and extended the lead to 20 points, 57-37.
By the time Radford gained momentum, time was not on their side. The Highlanders went on a 17-3 run in the last four minutes, but the Rams were too far ahead.
VCU outscored Radford 49-42 in the second half for its second win of the season.
Despite a late-game lapse after building a 27 point lead, the Rams showed a more structured performance since playing Prairie View. They were 13 of 24 on 3-pointers, with six players connecting.
VCU had 13 steals and forced Radford into 20 turnovers. VCU contained the Highlanders guard, Rashun Davis, who poured in 28 points against the GU Hoyas, to 18 points, 12 of which came from the foul line.
Lewis racked up 13 points for the Rams, six of which came from the charity stripe. Senior guard Korey Billbury put away 15 points.
Certainly a good win, we played much better than we did Friday night,” said Head Coach Will Wade.
“We didn’t turn over the ball as much. Beating them on the glass was good, they’re a good rebounding team,” Wade said. “Tonight we played very well for a pretty long stretch but we’ve got to close it out, but overall much better night.”
Staff Writer, Sophia Belletti
Sophia is a sophomore print/online journalism major with a minor in gender, sexuality and women’s studies. She enjoys writing about current events and sports and hopes to one day be a sports reporter, covering soccer, basketball and baseball. You can usually find Sophia drinking way too much coffee and laughing at her own jokes. // Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn
Staff Photographer, Julie Tripp
Julie is a junior majoring in photography with a minor in media studies. She is pursuing a career in photojournalism and is taking the spring semester to study photography in Bristol, England. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Portfolio