Rockets seek upset of 15th-ranked Rams

Nov 18, 2014 - 3:47 PM Richmond, VA ( - Following wins to open their respective seasons, the Toledo Rockets will travel to take on the 15th-ranked Virginia Commonwealth Rams in a non-conference matchup as part of the Progressive Legends Classic at Siegel Center.

Toledo opened its season with a victory over Northern Arizona, 71-58, on Sunday, The Mid-American Conference Rockets were projected to be the conference favorite heading into the basketball season, but face a tough test in 15th-ranked VCU.

The Rams also kicked off their season on a high note, easily taking down SEC foe Tennessee, 85-69. Both VCU and Tennessee were present in last season's NCAA Tournament, but the Atlantic 10 Conference Rams were bounced in the first round by Stephen F. Austin.

The all-time series favors Toledo, 1-0. The two teams met back on Nov. 20, 2006, when the Rockets won the contest by a narrow 60-59 margin at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands.

Toledo returns a hefty portion of its lineup from last season, and only really loses starter Rian Pearson. Otherwise, Toledo returns all-conference point guard Julius Brown to the lineup one year after he led the team in scoring (14.9 ppg), and brings back talented guard/forward combo player Justin Drummond (14.2 ppg). Throw in forward J.D. Weatherspoon (10.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and center Nathan Boothe (9.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 38 blocked shots) and the starting lineup from last year's successful regular season starts to come together once again.

The Rockets shot 44.2 percent from the floor in the team's win over Northern Arizona on Sunday, and got a strong performance from Boothe in the outing. Boothe led the team with 19 points in the contest, adding six rebounds and two blocked shots. Drummond chipped in with 12 points, and Brown netted 10 with a team-high eight assists. The Rockets will get Mississippi State sophomore transfer Dre Applewhite about midway through the season when he is determined eligible, not quite in time for the start of conference play.

VCU has won at least 26 games in all five seasons under head coach Shaka Smart, and the Rams look to make it a sixth consecutive season with at least that many victories in 2014-15. Juvonte Reddic (11.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and Rob Brandenberg (9.6 ppg) are both gone from VCU's 2013-14 squad, which hurts the team, but Smart has built such a sturdy program that a couple of losses won't hurt the team in the long run. The team showed that by taking down a talented Tennessee team in the Rams' season opener.

Melvin Johnson scored 23 points to lead his team, while Treveon Graham netted 15 points with 14 rebounds for the double-double. Injuries have already hit VCU, however, as Jonathan Williams is doubtful to play against Toledo with a concussion, and JeQuan Lewis, who also has a concussion, is questionable to play. Terry Larrier came off the bench against Tennessee to score 11 points, so he could fill a first-man-up role if Williams isn't set to go.

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