GAME NOTES: Intrastate foes will square off at Richmond Coliseum on Saturday afternoon, as the Virginia Commonwealth Rams and the Virginia Tech Hokies clash in the Governor's Holiday Hoops Classic.
VCU began the season among the Top 25, but with losses in three of its first 12 games it has lost claim to a spot in the polls. After the Rams fell on the wrong end of a 77-68 final at Northern Iowa on Dec. 14, they bounced back into the win column on Tuesday night with a 72-57 home victory over Wofford.
Since dropping a pair of games to nationally-ranked Michigan State (96-77) and Seton Hall (68-67) in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in late November, Virginia Tech has caught fire with four straight wins to surge to 7-3. The Hokies' latest win was arguably their most impressive of the season, as they went into Miami-Florida on Dec. 8 and handed the Hurricanes a 61-60 overtime defeat.
In regards to the all-time series, each side has defeated the other 10 times, and this marks the first matchup since the 1994-95 season.
Even though VCU was outshot from the field by Wofford earlier in the week, 38.5 percent to 37.5 percent, it was still able to claim an easy 25-point victory by shooting 25-of-34 from the free-throw line and by earning extra possessions with a dominating 20-8 edge in the turnover battle. Treveon Graham has seen much better performances from the field (4-of-11), but he shot 9- of-12 from the stripe on his way to a game-high 18 points. Jequan Lewis made an impression on both ends of the floor in just 19 minutes off the bench, tallying 16 points and four steals.
On the season, the Rams shoot less than stellar from the field (.425) en route to 75.6 points per game, but they allow only 67.1 points per game on the other end of the floor. Graham is the catalyst, scoring 16.3 points per game on solid percentages from the field (.453), 3-point range (.356) and the foul line (.785). Juvonte Reddic (11.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.0 bpg) is a sturdy presence in the paint, while Rob Brandenberg, Melvin Johnson and Briante Weber all score between 8.3 and 9.4 points per game.
Virginia Tech trailed for the majority of its latest contest against Miami- Florida but ended regulation on an 8-1 run to force overtime, and Jarell Eddie drained the game-winning jumper with 20 seconds left in the extra session to lift it to victory. Although it was dragged down on the afternoon by a poor 24-of-69 showing from the field, 12 of those field goals came from 3-point territory. Eddie was especially busy from beyond the arc (6-of-14) on his way to 24 points. Ben Emelogu scored 11 points off the bench, and Joey van Zegeren registered eight points, 10 rebounds and two blocks.
The Hokies have performed well on both ends of the floor this season, shooting 45.5 percent from the field for 77.6 points per game, which is 8.0 more than they allow, while also boasting a +6.5 rebounding margin. Unfortunately, they have evened the playing field thanks to their persistent turnover problem (-4.5 takeaway margin). Eddie (19.3 ppg) has established himself as one of the ACC's top scorers thanks to his prowess from long distance (35-of-72), and he also leads the team with 7.0 rebounds per game. Adam Smith (14.2 ppg), Emelogu (13.9 ppg) and C.J. Barksdale (11.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg) are regular contributors as well, although Barksdale missed the last game with a knee injury.
While this is technically a neutral-court contest, VCU will have the crowd on its side playing just across town from its home arena. Virginia Tech has shown some potency from beyond the arc, but its turnover issues will likely come back to haunt it against a Rams squad that jumps the passing lanes on a regular basis.
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