The Rams returned to the Stu for the first time since November 28 looking to capitalize on the famous Havoc home court advantage. VCU has struggled early, especially on the road, with a 1-4 record away but a perfect record in Richmond. That perfect record was going to be challenged early and with a vengeance when the Cincinnati Bearcats entered the building with a 9-2 record and holding #23 in the AP and #20 in the USA Today rankings.
Melvin Johnson has done some heavy lifting for VCU this season and opponents have taken note. Johnson went from a career high of 36 points in the game versus Florida State to 17 in the game against Georgia Tech due to defensive focus on the Rams leading scorer. Cincinnati came prepared to apply pressure and force VCU to look for other offensive options. Success in that area is an understatement.
It was no surprise that the Bearcats were first on the board and took an early 4-0 lead. The dome was pin drop quiet until Mo Alie-Cox shattered the silence with a thunderous dunk off an assist from Korey Billbury. That brought Ram fans to their feet and the animal roared to life in true Havoc fashion. As predicted Melvin Johnson spent the first half with a bulls-eye on his back and his only points would come from the line with under 1 minute remaining. Billbury stepped up and led the Rams with 13 points including 3 from beyond the arc. VCU would tie Cincinnati 4 times but couldn’t quite pass the Bearcats and at the buzzer the visitors led 33 – 31.
In season’s past the Rams were a second half team and when they returned from the break they presented a glimmer of the same. They started hot and took the lead for the first time off a beyond the arc shot from Michael Gilmore. Alie-Cox followed with a lay up with the and 1 to extend the lead to 4. It didn’t take long for the Bearcats to fire back and regain the lead with a lay up from Troy Caupain and a jumper from Farad Cobb. An Alie-Cox lay up would change the lead for the second time and put the Rams up 39 – 38. A few free throws later and Cincinnati would regain the lead. Thus the battle for control of the boards commenced.
Fans lost their pep as the Bearcats went on a 5-0 run until it was broken by a Gilmore 3 pointer which cut the Cincinnati lead in half. Then Coreontae DeBerry fouled out and Ram fans sent him to the bench with cheers and waves. A tie at 39 -39 and the ranked team began to pull away, then the Rams would spark and cut it back, and at 5:23 the Bearcats enjoyed their largest advantage at 57 – 47. Some fans began their exit early before VCU found a second gear for a late come back. JeQuan Lewis hit one from beyond the arc and the animal once again came alive. Then a foul and Lewis goes to the line to make 1, 2, 3 from the penalty stripe and the Stu is on it’s feet. Two more free throws courtesy of Alie-Cox and it’s a 1 possession game!
Cincinnati fires back and it’s back to a 4 point visitor advantage, then Lewis takes it down to 2, and a 3 from Cobb puts the visitors on top 62 – 57 with 1:23 of regulation remaining. Despite a 3 pointer and lay up from Billbury, the Rams would fall for their third consecutive game as the Bearcats successfully hit reset on VCU’s perfect results at home this season.
Billbury was the standout for VCU contributing 22 points and 9 rebounds. Lewis followed with 13 points and 4 assists and Alie-Cox added 10 points and 5 rebounds. The transition to full court press helped the Rams rally in the end but a strong Bearcat defense held the Rams leading scorer to a meager 2 points during his 30 minutes of play and the team to 30% shooting from the field in the second half. A solid effort but not enough for a win as VCU moves to 5 – 5 and Cincinnati improves to 10 -2 and 3-2 in the series.
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