No. 25 Cavs Come Up Short To No. 14 VCU, 59-56

Virginia coach Tony Bennett glanced at the stat sheet, and saw these numbers: 19 and 33.

The first was the number of free throws No. 25 Virginia made in its 59-56 loss to No. 14 VCU before a sellout crowd at John Paul Jones Arena on Tuesday night. The second was the number it attempted, leaving Bennett’s team with a 57.6 percentage from the line.

“I look at our free throws, and that certainly stings,” Bennett said.

Virginia did plenty right in its first in-state matchup against another ranked team in years, including making the Rams look as though they had left their trademark breakneck speed style back in Richmond.

But in the closing minutes, they saw a 55-49 lead evaporate, and they barely had an answer.

The Cavaliers turned it over 19 times, leading to 20 VCU points.

Treveon Graham gave VCU the lead at 56-55 with a steal and a baseline jumper with 1:18 to play, and after Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon made just the second of two free throws with 9.7 seconds left to tie it, Graham won it by making a barely contested 3-pointer that swished through with 1.1 seconds to play.

Still, all was not lost, and some may have been gained, Brogdon said.

“It’s definitely going to help us,” the redshirt sophomore point guard said. “I think this loss is going to end up being a blessing. Even though we started the year ranked, we need to not get too high on ourselves, take it down a notch, and work harder in practice. We won’t play another team that plays at a faster tempo, so we’ll be ready for any kind of pace a team tries to play against us.”

The Cavaliers also learned something about their own defense, he said.

“We made them play 30, 35 seconds of defense in the half court,” he said. “We wore them down, but it was our turnovers and our free throws that came back to get us.”

Graham finished with 22 points for the Rams, who trailed for almost all off the final 10 minutes.

After Brogdon’s tying free throw, VCU called time out to set up the final play.

Rob Brandenburg brought the ball up, went around a screen and fired a pass back to Graham, who shot from the left side of the arc and swished it through for just the sixth 3-pointer of the game.

Joe Harris led Virginia with 18 points, but he missed two free throws with 3:58 to play and Virginia trying to extend a 53-49 lead. The Cavaliers scored three points in the last 4:57.

With Harris leading the way, the Cavaliers used an 11-2 run to take command, and threatened to put the game away. But Graham scored twice from in close, and followed a jumper by Brogdon with a free throw.

The Rams still trailed 55-49 until Juvonte Reddic’s putback stuff with 2:44 to play sparked a 7-0 run. Jordan Burgess made a 3-pointer from the right corner, and Graham then stole a wraparound pass from Justin Anderson and drove for a baseline 6-footer with 1:18 remaining, giving the Rams the 56-55 lead.

The Rams won despite missing 9 of 15 free throws and shooting 41 percent (24 of 58) from the field.

Virginia shot just 57.6 percent at the line (19 of 33) and 39 percent from the field (18 of 46).

The meeting was the first between the schools since 1998, and was highly anticipated. It drew the first sellout to the 14,593-seat arena for a non-conference game since 2007, and it was loud.

The entire first half was played at Virginia’s pace, and the Rams led most of the way by driving to the basket and either drawing fouls or making shots from close in. Virginia made only three field goals in the first 13 minutes, but used a late 10-0 run to lead 26-24 at halftime.

The Rams had 15 fouls at the half, and had seven players with two each.

Virginia had 12 fouls, and four players with two apiece.