VCU v Michigan

VCU uses 22-2 second half run to end Belmont’s 23-game home win streak

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Entering Sunday the Belmont Bruins were the owners of the nation’s longest home court win streak, winning 23 straight games at the Curb Events Center. With No. 24 VCU being the first-ever ranked opponent to visit the arena, it was clear that the streak would be put to the test. And sure enough the Rams were able to use their advantage inside to pull away from Belmont, winning 81-68 with Juvonte Reddic leading four players in double figures with 18 points to go along with 11 rebounds.

Using their “havoc” defense VCU was able to force 21 Belmont turnovers, but at only a plus-8 in points off of turnovers (21-13) converting those opportunities isn’t where Shaka Smart’s team did its best work. The Rams were most effective in the paint, as they outscored Belmont 40-22 in the points in the paint category. VCU gained separation with a 22-2 second half run and the Rams were also more efficient during the game’s final 20 minutes, shooting 61.5% from the field (14-for-18 2PT) and scoring 1.19 points per possession.

The Rams scored 22 of their 40 paint points and three players scored at least nine points during the game’s final 20 minutes. Melvin Johnson and Treveon Graham, who’s come off the bench in each of the last two games (health reasons), scored 16 points apiece and freshman JeQuan Lewis added 12. Lewis’ output may be the biggest development going forward, especially when considering the offensive production the Rams tend to receive from Reddic, Johnson, Graham and guard Briante Weber.

Lewis entered Sunday averaging 3.9 points per game, going scoreless in two contests and reaching double figures just once (in a win over Winthrop). Against Belmont the freshman shot 4-for-7 from the field while also dishing out three assists, scoring nine of those points in the second half. If Lewis can build on his outing Sunday, that gives VCU a needed scoring option off the bench.

Would it be realistic to expect double figure outings from Lewis on a consistent basis? Not yet, and VCU doesn’t have to with the scoring options they already have. But the Rams do need something from those other reserves as they approach Atlantic 10 play, and if Lewis can step up VCU will be better for it.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.