GAME NOTES: A longtime rivalry adds another chapter on Sunday afternoon, as the Virginia Commonwealth Rams welcome the Old Dominion Monarchs to the Siegel Center.
In a tightly-contested series, VCU holds a slim 46-42 advantage, which includes wins in the last three meetings. These two teams are former Colonial Athletic Association foes, but the Rams have since moved on to the Atlantic 10 Conference, while ODU is a member of Conference USA.
After dropping its season opener to Missouri State (79-67 in OT), ODU got hot with four straight wins, but since then it has dipped to 4-4 following a three-game losing streak. The Monarchs most recently hosted North Carolina Central last Tuesday night and suffered a disappointing 76-69 overtime defeat.
VCU started the season as the nation's 14th-ranked team, but it has since fallen from the polls after an underwhelming performance in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off a few weeks ago, where it lost to both Florida State (85-67) and Georgetown (84-80). The Rams have gotten their season back on track of late with three consecutive triumphs, however, including a 71-68 overtime victory at home versus Eastern Kentucky on Thursday.
After trailing by as many as 14 points in the second half versus NC Central, ODU climbed all the way back to force overtime on a late Dimitri Batten layup, but after scoring the first bucket in the extra session, it fell victim to a 7-0 run as it lost control. Batten finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds, although he was 0-of-4 from the free-throw line for a team that made just 44.4 percent of its tries from the stripe on the night. Keenan Palmore added 13 points, while Aaron Bacote scored 12 points but also committed seven turnovers. The Monarchs' .500 record is displayed perfectly within their season statistics, as they score nearly the same as they allow (68.8 ppg to 68.5 ppg). Bacote is an elite scorer with his 19.4 points per game, although he has nearly as many turnovers (29) as assists (32). Batten (13.0 ppg) shoots just 36 percent from the field, while Palmore and Richard Ross net 9.6 points per game apiece.
The Rams also played extra basketball in their latest bout, but they fell on the positive side of their overtime decision by holding EKU to just 1-of-5 shooting over the final five minutes. The squad did most of its damage from 3- point range, where they connected on 13-of-31 attempts, with Rob Brandenberg (12 points) going 4-of-8 from distance, including the game-winning trey in overtime. Treveon Graham tallied 15 points and nine rebounds in the victory, while Jequan Lewis and Melvin Johnson came off the bench to score 13 and 12 points, respectively. On the season, VCU pours in 77.6 points per game, nearly nine points more per game than it allows, despite getting outshot by its opponents, 46.2 percent to 44.3 percent. Graham is both the team's leading scorer (16.3 ppg) and rebounder (7.1 rpg), and he converts 78.7 percent of his free-throw attempts per game. Juvonte Reddic brings 10.7 points and 7.0 boards to the table, while both Brandenberg (10.7 ppg) and Johnson (10.7 ppg) drain two 3-pointers per contest.
Since suffering a pair of losses a few weeks back, VCU has returned to its stellar ways, and not much is expected to change at home against an ODU squad trending in the wrong direction.
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