Dec 5, 2013 11:03 PM
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Shaka Smart knew his Virginia Commonwealth team was going to get all it could handle from Eastern Kentucky, and when the Colonels came and played as advertised, keeping the Rams in a fight to the finish, Smart was happy just to have come away with the victory on Thursday night.
Rob Brandenburg hit a 3-pointer early in overtime and Melvin Johnson had a critical free throw with 14.2 seconds to go as the Rams won 71-68.
"Eastern Kentucky really, really affects the way you play offense with their defense because they try to take you out of everything and they're super aggressive," Smart said. "They really had their way for a while."
Actually, it was for most of the night. The Rams used a big run to end the first half with a 38-36 lead, then quickly fell behind after halftime.
"We've got to lock back in," Treveon Graham said of coming out for the second half flat. "Once you get back in the locker room, it's a whole 'nother game."
The Rams played from behind for much of the second half, finally grabbing a 61-60 lead on freshman JeQuan Lewis' 3-pointer and then layup with 5:26 to play. The lead changed hands three more times before Melvin Johnson's floater with 1:04 remaining tied it, and the game headed into overtime.
Brandenburg's 3 from the left corner came 28 seconds into the overtime and was the only scoring until Johnson made 1 of 2 free throws with 14.2 seconds to go. Corey Walden made a layup for the Colonels, and Briante Weber's free throw with 5.7 seconds left produced the final score.
A desperation 3-point try by Glenn Cosey came after the buzzer and was way off.
Graham led the Rams (7-2) with 15 points, Lewis had 13 and Johnson and Brandenburg scored 12 each.
Walden led the Colonels (6-3) with 19 points, Cosey had 17 and Marcus Lewis 15, and the three guards also gave the Rams fits with their ability to handle VCU's trademark pressure. Eastern Kentucky finished with 15 turnovers, but the Rams converted them into just eight points in the defensive fight.
"We take care of the ball, no matter who we're playing against," Colonels coach Jeff Neubauer said.
They also showed they can play at VCU's pace, which few teams manage for 40 minutes.
"VCU wins most games because they play so much harder than everybody else and that's absolute fact," Neubauer said. "They just out-compete everyone and so what we asked of our team was to play harder than them tonight and see what happens."
The coach said he regretted not using his final timeout with a minute left in regulation. Instead, he let his team play, and VCU's perimeter defense didn't let Glenn Cosey get lose. He finally tossed the ball toward the basket and 6-foot-8 Eric Stutz, but as the ball arrived, so did 0:00 on the shot clock.
The Rams set up a play for Graham, but he lost the ball trying to drive into the lane, and a desperate heave at the buzzer missed for the Colonels.
VCU trailed 25-11 after nearly 11 minutes before Melvin Johnson hit his second 3-pointer, sparking a 27-11 run to end the half. The Rams held Eastern Kentucky scoreless for more than four minutes at the start, and scored the last 10 points to lead 38-36 at the intermission. Graham scored eight points in the burst, and collected a miss by driving Briante Weber in the air and laid it in at the halftime buzzer.