On one possession with less than 8 minutes remaining against Richmond on Friday, VCU forward Brandon Johns Jr. got the ball on the wing. He dribbled to his right into the lane, tried to make a move, then found Jamir Watkins cutting along the baseline for a layup, a foul and a 3-point play.
On the Rams’ next possession, Johns got the ball about 18 feet from the basket. He again drove to his right and into the lane, reversed to his left, drew a shooting foul and made both free throws.
The sequence pushed VCU’s lead from 7 to 12 – and illustrated part of the reason why the Rams (15-5, 6-1 in A-10) are 13th nationally in free throw attempts heading into Wednesday’s game against George Mason (12-8, 4-3) at the Siegel Center.
They have guys adept at driving the ball to the basket. And they can draw fouls inside.
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VCU has five players who have taken at least 61 foul shots – and another who has taken 44.
The Rams have gone to the line for 30 or more free throws in seven games this season. They have shot 472 free throws overall, an average of 23.6. They are making 16.8 (71%), accounting for 24.8% of their points.
VCU ranked 205th in attempts last season. Rams coach Mike Rhoades said the jump this year is a combination of the type of players VCU has and an emphasis during the offseason.
“But No. 1 is it’s the players we have,” he said. “We have some guys who are just downhill players, guys who can get by their man off the dribble or off the rip. And then guys who are pretty strong and athletic getting off their feet, being able to finish through people or drawing fouls.”
Johns, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound transfer from Michigan, is 70 of 88 (79.5%) at the foul line. Jalen DeLoach, a 6-9, 215-pound forward, is 47 of 76 (61.8%).
Watkins, a 6-7 wing, is 48 of 65 (73.8%). Guard Jayden Nunn is 46 of 64 (71.9%), and point guard is Ace Baldwin is 47 of 61 (77%).
Reserve guard Zeb Jackson, another transfer from Michigan, is 34-44 (77.3%).
“Some years you have guys who have a knack to draw fouls,” Rhoades said. “We have a few of those guys for sure. But I think our pace, I think the emphasis of really attacking the paint and attacking the rim …
“And then we’re throwing the ball into the post more than we ever have, probably since our first year with [Justin] Tillman, and we’re throwing it to multiple guys. Those guys are drawing fouls. Those guys are physical players, so I think that’s really helped us.”
VCU hasn’t drawn as many fouls in A-10 play (18.1 attempts per game), but the line could be a factor against Mason.
The Patriots shoot 47% overall from the field and 36.8% on 3-pointers – both second in the league. But they shoot 63.5% on free throws, the conference’s lowest percentage.
Forward Josh Oduro, a 6-9, 235-pound senior, is shooting 53.5% from the field and 60% at the line while averaging 14.9 points and 8.1 rebounds (and 2.9 turnovers). In the past four games, he’s had combinations of 26 points and 15 rebounds, 22-9, 17-9 and 24-14.
“They have some great pieces, and Oduro is a heck of a player,” Rhoades said. “He’s a double-double machine. … He’s really improved. The way he moves, it’s really hard to guard him one-on-one at different spots on the court. He’s expanded his game. ...
“They can play big and be real physical. They can play with four guards with Oduro and really stretch you out. They have some guys shooting the 3-pointer really well. It’s a team that can spread you out and put you in some tough spots defensively. We’ve got to make sure we guard them at a high level knowing that they’re going to make some plays and Oduro is going to score. We’ve got make it really hard.”
Notes: Robby Robinson, the voice of the Rams, is set to call his 500th VCU men’s game. Robinson, who serves as director of business development for VCU Sports Properties, has been calling Rams games since the 2008-09 season. … Mason freshman guard Justyn Fernandez played at Monacan High and Virginia Episcopal before going to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. He’s averaging 3.1 points in 9.7 minutes. … The Patriots are 8-23 on the road against the Rams but have won three of the past five games at the Siegel Center.
Tim Pearrell (804) 649-6965