Virginia Commonwealth University guard Treveon Graham saved the day for the VCU Rams as his last-second layup gave his team the 63-61 victory against the Saint Louis Billikens. The Rams struggled all game to break away from the young Billikens team and had many unforced errors, but came away with their 11th straight victory. Graham’s heroics came after his missed the last game with an ankle injury.
The Billikens battled the entire game. They stayed within single-digits the entire way and their effort caused a dramatic finish. After Graham missed two free throws with 1:52 left in game, VCU fouled SLU guard Achraf Yacoubou who hit 1 of his 2 free throws to tie the game at 58. VCU’s Jordan Burgess missed a 3-pointer and SLU took the lead on a tough jumper by SLU guard Austin McBroom to take a 60-58 lead.
VCU reclaimed the lead with Burgess 3-pointer, 61-60, with 23 seconds left in the game. However, Burgess nearly cost his team the game after pushing SLU's Yacoubou in the back attempting to get a rebound after a SLU miss. After missing the first free throw, Yacoubou made the second free throw to tie the game at 61 with 7 seconds left to set up the final play by Graham.
Saint Louis was not intimated by the experienced Rams team. After two free throws by VCU guard Briante Weber, the Rams set up their "havoc" defense and the young Bills aggressively attacked it. They waited for the double team to come up and then passed the ball down court to another guard or forward forcing the VCU players into a mismatch.This allowed the Billikens to get some easy looks at the basket and have an 11-9 lead at the first media timeout.
The Rams appeared to be lacking their normal energy during this game, but picked it up in spurts. After SLU went up 4 points, VCU went on a 12-2 thanks to Treveon Graham making some baskets and the "havoc" defense forcing some turnovers against the Billikens. SLU began to run into double teams and make poor decisions against the VCU pressure. The run allowed the Rams to get an 8 point lead with 9:23 left in the first half. SLU however, responded in a big way.
This young team was not fazed by the Rams, they went back to their pressure-breaking methods that worked earlier in the game and it paid off. SLU went on a 12-2 run of its own to reclaim the lead. The Bills cut into the heart of the VCU pressure getting layups from guard Davell Roby and Austin McBroom. Yacoubou also slashed into the lane and aggressively attacked the paint. This forced VCU on its heels and eventually forced VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart to call timeout after Roby stole the ball and got a layup to extend the SLU lead to 4 points.
The teams traded blow during the final 4 minutes of the first half until it ended in a 34-34 tie at halftime. SLU shots nearly 52 percent in the first half while VCU 34.5 percent in the first half. VCU struggles and lack of energy was huge for the Billikens as they sought to potentially pull off their biggest victory of the year.
The second half started very slowly, both teams did not make a shot for nearly 4 minutes until VCU’s Briante Weber nailed a 3-pointer to break the tie. SLU responded with back-to-back buckets by Milik Yarbrough to reclaim the lead. The game would be back and forth affair the rest of the way.
This game's largest lead was an 8 point lead that VCU held in the first half. Both teams fought, every time VCU would extend its lead, Saint Louis would respond. It was a great sign of toughness and resilience by the young Bills team. In situations earlier this season, SLU would fold and not be able to make a comeback, but they could not reclaim the lead until the final minute of the game.
After two missed free throws by Treveon Graham, SLU’s Austin McBroom drove the ball down court and on call on his own number by hitting a tough jumper while fading away from the basket to give SLU the lead with 42 seconds left, giving Saint Louis a 60-58 lead and setting up the final sequences of plays.
VCU will play George Washington in a huge Atlantic 10 conference match up on Tuesday, January 27th at 7 p.m. eastern time. SLU will play the George Mason Patriots on Thursday, January 29th at 7 p.m. eastern time.