The VCU Rams last met the SJU Hawks on a neutral court in Brooklyn for the final game of the Atlantic 10 tournament. The Hawks claimed the Championship title in a 65 – 61 victory at the end of last season. Coming into this game SJU had a 6-7 record and VCU was 11-3 and ranked #20 in the AP Top 25. The Rams were also riding a 7 game winning streak while the Hawks had lost their last 3. This 89 – 74 victory marks Coach Shaka Smart’s 150th win at VCU and extends the Rams current winning streak to 8, but it doesn’t mean Smart is satisfied with everything that happened on the court. Now 12-3 overall and 3-0 in A-10 matches Coach Smart maintains his focus on the work still to be done. After the game Smart said, “It takes a mature team to play the right way regardless of what the scoreboard says and we’ve got some maturing to do.”
The Rams got off to a hot start with 3 consecutive 3 point shots and a 9-0 lead over the Hawks before they were able to answer back with a dunk by DeAndre Bembry. Although the lead never changed and the Rams were ahead by 16 at the end of the first half, the Hawks were able to narrow the gap several times coming to within 1 point of VCU’s lead. The Rams hit the majority of their threes during this half with 8 made from beyond the arc with Treveon Graham and Melvin Johnson contributing 3 each before half time.
In the second half Johnson sank 3 of VCU’s 4 beyond the arc shots and led the scoring with 20 points in the game. Graham added the remaining 3 pointer of the half and was 19 of the Rams overall points. The Hawks scored 44 points in the second half and the Rams scored 43. Despite a 27 point deficit at one point SJU was able to battle back and that’s where the maturity Smart referenced makes the difference. Coming out strong can lead to the perception that it will be an easy win, and if complacency sets in that’s when things can happen for the other team. It led to SJU coming within 14 points not once, but twice in the second half. In the end though the Hawks had 20 turnovers and far fewer field goal attempts than the Rams and combined with VCU’s 52% from 3 point range would be too much to overcome for SJU. The Rams will play their next 3 games on the road before returning home to face GW on January 27th.