CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia Commonwealth Coach Shaka Smart glanced at the final box score as he conducted a postgame news conference and knew he shouldn’t have been smiling. His team had been outrebounded, called for more fouls and generally played the sort of sloppy, herky-jerky style No. 25 Virginia so badly wanted Tuesday night.
But then he looked over at junior Treveon Graham and all those concerns seemed to wash away. Game-winners will do that to a coach.
Graham, an All-Met from St. Mary’s Ryken, hit a back-breaking three-pointer over the outstretched arms of Virginia point guard London Perrantes with 1.1 seconds left to propel No. 14 VCU to a dramatic 59-56 victory over the Cavaliers at John Paul Jones Arena. The Rams overcame a six-point deficit over the game’s final three minutes.
The winning basket came after two timeouts called by Smart with Cavaliers guard Malcolm Brogdon at the free throw line and 9.7 seconds remaining in regulation. Brogdon made just one of his two attempts, setting the stage for guard Rob Brandenberg to find Graham.
Even though the shot came from NBA three-point range, Graham didn’t hesitate, noting “those are the shots I take in practice.”
The Rams’ leading scorer a year ago, he finished with a game-high 22 points, 10 of which were in the final seven minutes of the second half. The Washington native was the lone VCU player to register in double figures.
“He can get to the rim, he can offensive rebound and he can put the dagger in you like he did with the three ball,” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said of Graham.
As exhilarating as the final moments were for VCU (2-0), they were just as excruciating for Bennett. The Cavaliers (1-1) hit just 19 of their 33 free throw attempts but seemed to take command of the game after a 10-2 surge midway through the second half.
But star Joe Harris (18 points) faltered down the stretch, missing two clutch free throws, committing a costly offensive foul and missing badly on two more shots over the final four minutes. Facing VCU’s full-court pressure, the Cavaliers committed 19 turnovers and had just two field goals in the closing eight minutes of the contest.
Forward Darion Atkins (Landon) chipped in eight points and eight rebounds, scoring several baskets around the rim down the stretch. Brogdon added 10 points, but he and Perrantes combined for eight turnovers.
Bennett conceded after the game that “perhaps I could have called a timeout and run a set” when Virginia’s offense stalled once Graham gave VCU a one-point lead with 1 minute 17 seconds left. Instead, the Cavaliers settled for a desperation airball by Harris.
Rams redshirt freshman Jordan Burgess, who hit a crucial three-pointer with 2:16 left to trim VCU’s deficit to one, was responsible for shutting down Virginia’s top weapon in the waning minutes of the game.
The atmosphere in the sold-out building felt more like a conference game in February, with dueling chants of “U-V-A” and “V-C-U” cascading onto the court during stoppages in play. The game, though, was a disjointed one with the two teams whistled for 48 combined fouls.
Nonetheless, buoyed by Graham’s aggression, the Rams led by as many as seven points even though the slow pace favored the Cavaliers. But after hitting just three of its first 14 shots, Virginia took a 26-24 advantage into the second half on the heels of a 10-0 run just before halftime.
Graham, though, wasn’t finished.
“This is a win for us that’s gonna speak volumes later in the year,” Smart said.