RICHMOND — With his team playing less than two miles away from its on-campus arena as part of the Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic, Virginia Commonwealth Coach Shaka Smart made the Friday night shoot-around optional for the Rams.
Only about half the roster showed up, but as is usually the case, sophomore Melvin Johnson didn’t waste a chance to work on his shooting. And it wasn’t long before he caught Smart’s eye.
“I don’t think he missed [Friday] night,” the coach said. Johnson remained just as hot one night later, and VCU’s “Havoc” pressure defense overwhelmed Virginia Tech, 82-52, in front of a frenzied, black-and-gold clad crowd that transformed the Richmond Coliseum into a neutral court by name only.
Johnson poured in a career-high 27 points, including six three-pointers during a stunning 31-0 run by VCU — part of a 37-2 surge — after the Hokies took an early 6-0 lead. When the onslaught was over, the first game between these two schools since the 1994-95 season had turned into a laugher — and there were still more than 25 minutes remaining.
“It was a surreal feeling,” said Johnson, who finished 8 for 11 from three-point range, the most three-pointers an opposing player has ever hit in one game against Virginia Tech. “It felt like everything I’d throw up would go in.”
Each swish brought a new wave of noise from the partisan crowd of 10,605, and Virginia Tech responded by committing gaffe after gaffe. The victory gave VCU (10-3) wins over the Hokies and Virginia in the same season for the first time since the 1987-88 campaign. The Rams defeated the Cavaliers in Charlottesville last month.
But senior Rob Brandenberg will remember Saturday for what he deemed “one of the best runs I’ve seen since I’ve been here.”
Even Smart was shocked by the carnage — “That was fun,” he said upon learning the exact figures — and the only other comparable surge during his tenure at VCU came the last time the Rams played at the Richmond Coliseum. In the 2012 Colonial Athletic Association tournament finals against George Mason, VCU went on a 32-4 run only to watch its lead dwindle to four later in the second half.
On Saturday, the Rams never let up, finishing with 22 steals and 48 points from their bench. Forward Juvonte Reddic (10 points, 11 rebounds) was the only VCU player other than Johnson to score in double figures.
Virginia Tech (7-4) went more than 10 minutes without scoring as VCU’s lead ballooned to 37-8 in the first half, and every trip up the floor was an adventure for Hokies freshmen Devin Wilson and Ben Emelogu (13 combined turnovers). By the time the game was over, the Hokies had committed a season-high 27 turnovers and VCU had turned them into 42 points, the most in school history.
“Even when we did break the press, I thought we were still in speed mode,” Virginia Tech Coach James Johnson said. “We didn’t settle down.”
Melvin Johnson, meanwhile, never slowed down, and Smart only encouraged him. With about 10 minutes remaining in regulation, Smart even began running plays for Johnson in hopes that he might break former guard Troy Daniels’s program-record of 11 three-pointers in one game.
It was about the only thing that didn’t go right.
“This is probably the best game we’ve played this year,” Smart said. “The way we played tonight, we can play with just about anybody.”