PORTLAND, Oregon — No coach or player would ever use travel as an excuse, but VCU’s record in the NCAA tournament when they’ve had to travel to the West Coast is enough to make any black and gold fan see red. After VCU fell in overtime 75-72 to Ohio State Thursday night, the Rams are now 1-3 when dancing on the left coast.
The Rams and Buckeyes started the game slowly, each struggling to make shots. But a JeQuan Lewis (11 points) three pointer with 12:07 left in the first half ignited a 12-2 VCU run that gave them a 12 point lead. But Buckeye freshman D’Angelo Russell keyed a comeback that brought OSU within one at the half, including scoring 10 of Ohio State’s final 14 points of the first half.
The second half was a back and forth affair with neither team leading by more than six at any point. Ohio State built a four- point lead with 2:43 to play before Melvin Johnson hit back to back three pointers to give VCU a two-point lead. Amir Williams (13 points) tied the game at 66 with a dunk, and VCU missed three shots, two of them layups, in the final 61 seconds and had to settle for overtime.
Treveon Graham gave the Rams a brief lead in OT with his 10th and final point of his VCU career, but VCU had two key turnovers and fell behind by three. Still, with 11 seconds to go, Graham had a chance to tie the game with a three pointer that rattled out of the rim.
“It felt good. It went in and out,” Graham explained. “It’s a shot that I can make. It just didn’t go in.”
“That’s a shot we’ll take all day long,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart, who is now 7-5 all-time in the NCAA tournament, said. “It’s a shot he (Graham) has made before and we’ll take that situation all day with him having the ball.”
“I feel like we should be playing on Saturday,” Johnson who led the Rams with 17 points, said. “If we didn’t get in our own way and made some mistakes, minor mistakes that are extremely fixable.”
For the Buckeyes, Russell scored a game high 28 points, third most ever by a Big 10 freshman in the NCAA tournament. If it is his only appearance in the dance, he is making it worthwhile. He is projected to be an NBA lottery pick if he decides to enter the draft this summer.
“I watched this (tournament) my whole life. Just knowing that a lot of great teams go down, a lot of underdogs achieve, just with the mentality that anything can happen,” Russell said.
“I’ve been doing this for a while, and one of the greatest feelings in college basketball is hearing your name advance in this tournament.” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. “Sometimes, you have to go unconventional. You have to find ways, and guys have to step up.”
Ohio State now moves on to face 2nd seeded Arizona on Saturday. The Rams are left to think about their second straight one-and-done appearance. But, Smart reminded everyone that the cupboard is anything but bare in the Rams locker room.
“In these types of situations, you really have to maintain your poise,” Smart said. “The reality is, right now we’re out there with a lot of younger guys who haven’t necessarily been in that situation in the past. That’s no excuse. If you’re in the game at this time, you have to step up and make the right play.”
This was a school-record 5th straight NCAA appearance for the Rams under Smart. The loss ends the collegiate careers of seniors Briante Weber, Graham and Jarred Guest. Graham leaves second on the school’s all-time scoring list while, Weber’s season was cut short by a knee injury, leaving him 12 steals shy of the all time NCAA record.