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Tillman scores 16 and VCU uses big early run to take charge and roll over Belmont, 78-51

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RICHMOND, Virginia — Justin Tillman is feeling more and more comfortable with the speed of the college game, and it's starting to show.

The freshman scored 16 points and had two highlight reel dunks and VCU's other first-year players also played big roles Tuesday night as the Rams smothered Belmont with a 27-10 first-half run and beat the Bruins 78-51.

"I feel real comfortable, just the pace of the game," Tillman said of the Rams' 94-foot style of play, and coach Shaka Smart's expectation that everyone play defense to play at all. "I know if I go all out, I've got a teammate coming in for me."

JeQuan Lewis added 13 points for the Rams (7-3), freshman Michael Gilmore had eight points and eight rebounds, and classmates Terry Larrier (eight points, four rebounds) and Jonathan Williams (seven assists in 15 minutes) also played well.

Lewis said a pep talk from Smart has helped him find his game.

"I tried to step up on defense and when I play better on defense, my offensive game is there," Lewis said, adding that Smart encouraged him to be more aggressive at both ends off the floor. He also had five steals against the Bruins.

Smart's team has looked more like the one that has reached four straight NCAA tournaments since a 74-57 loss to No. 6 Virginia on Dec. 6. It was followed by a week of practice during the final exam period, and the results have followed.

"That week of practice was good for us," Smart said.

VCU beat then-No. 23 Northern Iowa 93-87 Saturday in double overtime, and made very quick work of the Bruins.

Belmont (7-4) played without scoring leader Craig Bradshaw, who is nursing a bruised calf, and missed his 21.3 scoring average badly. Evan Bradds led with 15 points on 6 of 9 shooting, and the rest of the team was 10 of 35 from the field.

"I was scared might be the right word of this game," Belmont coach Rick Byrd said, noting that his team isn't as good as it has been in the past two years, and that without Bradshaw, the Bruins didn't have a scorer the Rams had to fear.

"I looked to me like we got totally on our heels and just reacted to everything VCU was doing," Byrd said.

PHOTO: VCU's JeQuan Lewis and Belmont's Reece Chamberlain, right, fight for control of the ball during an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014, in Richmond, Va.  (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Alexa Welch Edlund)
VCU's JeQuan Lewis and Belmont's Reece Chamberlain, right, fight for control of the ball during an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Alexa Welch Edlund)

Belmont finished with as many turnovers, 17, as field goals.

VCU led 7-5 when a driving basket by Treveon Graham sparked a 27-10 run as the Bruins couldn't get many open shots, and couldn't get them to fall when they did. Belmont went scoreless for 5:40 after Bradds' layup made it 7-5, and it went 9:04 between field goals, Nick Smith getting the next with 7:21 left.

In between, eight different Rams scored and Belmont committed seven of its nine first-half turnovers.

The Bruins closed to within 34-21 at the half after Bradds scored the last six points of the half.

TIP-INS:

Belmont: Belmont finished 8-29 on 3 pointers. Taylor Barnette, shooting 44.3 percent coming in, made only one of his eight tries.

VCU: Freshman guard Jonathan Williams had six assists in his first eight minutes and finished with seven in 15 minutes.

RARIFIED AIR:

The Belmont-VCU game matched two of the six teams in the country that can boast 26-win seasons each of the past four years. The other four schools are Wichita State, Duke, Syracuse and Florida.

UP NEXT:

Belmont plays at Fairfield on Saturday.

VCU plays at Cincinnati on Saturday.

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