With less than 30 seconds to play in VCU’s first-round win at the Battle 4 Atlantis the Rams fans in the Imperial Arena started chanting ”We want Duke.”
They got what they asked for.
Treveon Graham scored 26 points and Rob Brandenberg added 15 and VCU beat No. 19 Memphis 78-65 on Thursday night.
VCU ( 3-1) will meet No. 5 Duke in Friday’s semifinals. The Blue Devils beat Minnesota 89-71.
”Playing Duke, what an incredible opportunity,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said. ”We’ll be facing arguably the best program in the nation and with no argument the best coach in the modern era.
”But we won’t fold up to the test.” He said.
They certainly didn’t in beating Memphis.
The Rams used their frenetic style of play to take a 16-point lead in the first half only to see the Tigers pull to 63-61 with 4:05 to play. VCU then went on an 11-0 run with all the points scored by Graham and Brandenberg. Brandenberg hit two 3’s in the run and Graham one as the Rams finished 13 for 22 from behind the arc.
”We had them on their heels in the first half,” Smart said. ”The overall style of play took a lot out of both teams but we practice that way.”
Adonis Thomas had 19 points for the Tigers (2-1), who committed 22 turnovers that the Rams turned into 33 points.
The Rams weren’t perfect, committing 19 turnovers that Memphis turned into 23 points.
The difference turned out to be 3-point shooting. Memphis outshot VCU from the field making 27 of 51 (52.9 percent) while the Rams were 26 of 54 (48.1 percent).
While the Rams were making 13 of 22 from beyond the arc, the Tigers only made 2 of 7.
”You can’t win a high-level game by committing 22 turnovers and giving up 3’s like we did,’ Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. ”I’m proud of my guys for the way they battled back. But one of my pet peeves is giving up 3s and they shot the daylights out of it.”
Memphis trailed 42-28 at halftime and managed to get within three points four times before making it a two-point game.
”You can’t expect smooth sailing all the time especially after you take a 14-point lead in at halftime,” Smart said.
Graham started the deciding run with a rebound basket and Brandenberg hit 3s on the next two possessions and Graham added another to make it 74-61 with 1:20 to play.
”What can I say,” Pastner asked, ”they shot the daylights out of it from 3, especially those big ones late.”
Graham said it was a matter of staying aggressive the whole game.
”Then,” he said, ”I just started taking open shots.”
VCU calls its style ”havoc” and coming into the game the Rams had forced 19.7 turnovers per game while leading the nation with 14.1 steals per game. The Rams had 14 against Memphis.
”When they came out and tried to play our style with us we felt good,” Smart said.
Thomas had 12 points in the second half when he picked his shooting up to make 7 of 10 after starting 2 of 5.
”Early on I settled for jump shots and didn’t take the ball in,” Thomas said. ”At halftime coach got on me and I knew I had to pick it up.”
Memphis started a lineup of all city natives for the third time this season. The Tigers are now 134-42 all-time with that type of lineup.