CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) – The game was much anticipated as a matchup of defensive-minded teams with completely different styles, and while the Virginia Cavaliers dictated the pace almost all night, turning it into a half-court struggle, the VCU Rams had the right guy at the finish.
“He can get to the rim. He can offensive rebound, and he can put the dagger in you like he did with the 3-ball,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said of Graham, who scored 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting. The rest of VCU was 16 of 43.
The Rams (2-0) trailed for almost all of the final 10 minutes until Graham fed Jordan Burgess for a wide-open 3-pointer from the right side, then stole the ball and drove for a baseline jumper that gave them a 56-55 lead with 1:18 left.
On a night when Virginia made just 19 of 33 free throws, Malcolm Brogdon hit the second of two with 9.7 seconds left for the Cavaliers (1-1), tying the game and allowing the Rams to call time out and set up the final play.
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 and made two of their final six free throws.
With Harris leading the way, the Cavaliers used an 11-2 run to take command midway through the second half and threatened to put the game away. But Graham scored twice 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.
The Rams won despite missing 9 of 15 free throws and shooting 41 percent (24 of 58) from the field.
Virginia shot 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 was announced as the first sellout of a non-conference game since 2007, although the crowd of 13,881 was below John Paul Jones Arena’s 14,593-seat capacity.
The Rams led most of the first half 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.