December 15, 2012 10:31:03 PM
RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Commonwealth University men's basketball tea was excited to greet the University of Alabama to its home arena, and quickly hit it with a big welcome it couldn't recover from.
The Rams blitzed the Crimson Tide early with a 26-5 run, ruining former coach Anthony Grant's return to the Siegel Center with a 73-54 victory on Saturday.
"I think we were just excited to play Alabama," point guard Darius Theus said, citing a 72-64 loss at Tuscaloosa last season. "We lost down there last year, so we really had that on our minds. We wanted to play them again and just get that payback."
Troy Daniels scored 16 points, Treveon Graham 14 and Melvin Johnson 12 for the Rams (7-3), now 6-2 in games against schools from the six major power conferences on their floor. They have also now beaten a school from each of the power conferences since Shaka Smart replaced Grant as coach four years ago.
They also seemed to have spent much of their eight-day layoff between games working on their ability to put teams away for good.
"I think everyone was on edge for all 40 minutes tonight," Theus said. "If we're into it like that, we're unstoppable."
The Tide closed to within 11 twice early in the second half, the last at 39-28 after Trevor Releford's driving hoop with 16:04 to play, and the sellout crowd grew quiet, fearful that the Rams' tendency to get a big lead on a team with its frenetic pace, then let up and let the opponent come back was surfacing.
It didn't happen this time.
Rob Brandenburg, who finished with 10 points, answered Releford's basket followed with a deep 3-pointer for VCU, and Jarred Guest hit a 15-footer after a turnover and the momentum was quickly back on the Rams' side. Two free throws by Randolph pulled Alabama within 44-30, but Johnson, a freshman, and light-scoring D.J. Haley scored consecutive inside baskets for the Rams, Johnson drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner and Daniels made another, making it 54-32.
Grant, who still has the best winning percentage (.752) of any men's basketball coach at VCU, said the start made the whole day difficult.
"Defensively they took us out of everything we wanted to do," he said. "They were able to build a lead that obviously proved insurmountable."
Devonta Pollard led the Crimson Tide (6-3) with 13 points and Levi Randolph had 10. Alabama committed 13 turnovers, one more than its average for a whole game, by halftime and finished with 19 giveaways that led to 19 VCU points.
"They're probably at this stage a little better" than last year," Grant said. " I thought the level of pressure, the number of guys that they had coming at us and the waves that were able to come at us, and we just didn't handle it well.".
The Rams made their big run after Rodney Cooper's two free throws gave Alabama a 2-0 lead. Daniels and Graham scored eight apiece in the push, which took more than 13 minutes. It helped greatly that Alabama kept turning the ball over, and couldn't shoot. It's first field goal came just 9:18 before halftime.
After a three-point play for Releford, Johnson and Daniels again made consecutive 3-pointers for the Rams, pushing their lead to 60-35, and as the crowd erupted in glee, Smart was able to get lightly used big man David Hinton, the only holdover on the Rams' roster from Grant's tenure, into the game.