RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — VCU coach Shaka Smart has said all along that the 22nd-ranked Rams’ move to the Atlantic 10 would be more challenging.
It got real challenging Thursday night, and Treveon Graham, Darius Theus and the Rams still found a way to pull through.
Graham scored six of his 25 points in overtime, and Theus added a career-high 22 points and 10 assists, four steals and no turnovers in 37 minutes as Virginia Commonwealth rallied late in regulation to tie it and then beat Saint Joseph’s 92-86.
“We’re getting a heck of an introduction to the Atlantic 10,” Smart said, whose team has won 12 straight, including victories over Dayton at home and at St. Bonaventure in A-10 play.
And VCU, which moved from the Colonial Athletic Association after last season, making a heck of an impression, especially against the preseason favorite Hawks.
“They came in the league to win the league,” Hawks coach Phil Martelli said. “Their style is relentless.”
The Rams (15-3, 3-0 Atlantic 10) won even on a night when their bread and butter — 3-point shooting — was a liability. They missed 25 of 32 tries from behind the arc, but Theus more than made up for the difference. After taking a total of 17 shots in his last five games, he was 9 for 18 against Saint Joseph’s, including the layup to cap a rally and force overtime.
“He was phenomenal tonight,” Smart said of his senior point guard. “Without him we had no chance to win.”
“They showed a lot of attention to Troy (Daniels) and his man never helped off, not once, so it kind of opened the lane up for me,” Theus said. His layup came 7 seconds after Daniels, 0 for 7 on 3s at that point, swished one to get the Rams within 79-78. After Ronald Roberts made one of two free throws for the Hawks, Theus took the inbounds pass and never stopped.
“The kid took it to the basket on the last play. We didn’t make him change direction,” Martelli said. “Shame on us.”
Daniels, who came into the game leading the country with an average of more the four 3-pointers a game, still had the full faith of his teammates when they worked an inbounds play and found him in the left corner for the game’s biggest shot.
“That’s what we can expect him to do,” Theus said. “He can 0 for 20 and he can take that shot any day for me”
Juvonte Reddic added 15 points and 17 rebounds for the Rams, playing their first game as a ranked team since 1984-85.
Langston Galloway had 22 points, Carl Jones 21 and C.J. Aiken had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Hawks (9-6, 1-2).
Aiken’s dunk pulled the Hawks within 74-73 with 2:08 left. After VCU missed, Jones pulled up on the left wing, ball faked an over-eager Theus into the air, let him fly by and calmly swished a 3-pointer to give them a 76-74 lead with 1:26 to play.
The Hawks had 6.8 seconds to make a play after Theus’ tying layup, but Jones lost the handle and VCU took it away.
In the overtime, Graham fed Reddic inside for the opening basket, and after the Hawks’ 35-second shot clock violation, Graham was hacked while making a 3-pointer. His four-point play made it 86-80. Galloway scored for Saint Joseph’s, but Briante Weber’s 15-footer and Graham’s floater made it 90-82 and the Hawks never caught up.
The Hawks came out seemingly determined to show the Rams they could run with them.
But Saint Joseph’s led only once in the first half, after Galloway’s three-point play made it 5-4, because the Rams followed with an 11-2 run started by a 3-pointer by Theus. It was the only shot from behind the arc VCU made in its first 14 tries, but they were 15 for 23 inside the arc. When Graham made the second 3 with 2:10 left in the first half, it sparked an 8-2 burst that built their lead back up to 38-30.
The Hawks had just finished a 14-4 run that featured 3-pointers by Jones and Galloway, closing a 26-14 deficit to 30-28.