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Rams taking care of ball--and rivals
CAA Notebook


Date published: 1/17/2007

By JIM McCONNELL

Virginia Commonwealth hasn't skipped a beat since former Florida assistant Anthony Grant took over for Jeff Capel as head coach.

The Rams (14-3 overall, 6-0) are off to their best start ever in Colonial Athletic Association play. They've won five straight games and 12 of their last 13 heading into tonight's home game against UNC Wilmington, and are unbeaten in their first seven road games this season.

A big reason for VCU's success has been turnovers. Grant's team leads the conference in turnover margin (plus 6.6) and hasn't committed more turnovers than its opponent in any game this season.

Grant credits sophomore point guard Eric Maynor for keeping his team's high-octane offense running smoothly while continuing to take care of the basketball. Maynor shared CAA player of the week honors last week after averaging 17 points and 5.7 assists in three VCU wins.

"He's having a great year. We have a team that is playing very well together and he's certainly been the catalyst for that with the way he distributes the ball," Grant said.

Sweat equity

Sophomore forward Alex Smith has become a force in the paint for William & Mary, scoring in double figures in four of his last six games while establishing a new career-high with 16 points in the Tribe's loss to Delaware.

At this point, the only thing preventing Smith from taking on an even bigger role is his own sweat.

Smith deals with a hereditary disorder which causes him to become dehydrated quickly during periods of exercise. As a result, he rarely plays more than 20 minutes per game, even though Tribe Mary coach Tony Shaver would love to keep him out on the court for more extended periods.

"He goes very hard and can lose his energy level very quickly, so we have to get him out of there," Shaver said. "It's gotten better, though. I don't know if playing better helps with that, but he's been one of our top performers over the last month."

Battle tested

Not so long ago, it looked like a recipe for disaster: breaking in a new coach and trying to find replacements for two all-CAA performers while opening the season against a brutally tough non-conference schedule.

But after losing at Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Louisville and Boston College, there finally appears to be some method to Northeastern's madness.

Led by first-year coach Bill Coen, the Huskies (5-12, 3-3) beat Georgia State and preseason CAA favorite Hofstra last week for their first back-to-back wins all season. They look a lot more dangerous than anyone expected after losing guard Jose Juan Barea to the NBA and center Shawn James to Duquesne.

"They're the best 5-12 team I've ever seen," Hofstra coach Tom Pecora said.

Coen praised his three seniors (Bennet Davis, Bobby Kelly and Adrian Martinez) for keeping the team together while it was repeatedly getting hammered early in the season.

"It could've gone either way," he added. "Our guys have taken the attitude that what doesn't kill us will make us stronger."

To reach JIM McCONNELL: 540/374-5444
Email: jmcconnell@freelancestar.com