Perhaps you were surprised when Shaka Smart left VCU for Texas last April. Well, his players weren’t.

“We kind of had the feeling that he was going to be gone,” VCU forward Mo Alie-Cox told John Jastremski, who was filling in as host of CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “Things were just different after the season. We had two weeks off. We never get that. Workouts got canceled. We were in a lift and he came in there like, ‘We’re going to have a meeting at 8 o’clock.’ Once we heard we were going to have a meeting, we pretty much knew that was it. We didn’t have any meetings the previous year before that, so the players already knew. It was just up to him to tell us. The players were hurt, but we moved on after a couple days and we just moved on to the next stages.”

Have they ever. The Rams beat Richmond, 87-74, on Friday to notch their 20th win of the season. Five Rams finished in double figures, including Melvin Johnson, who’s cored a game-high 22, Justin Tillman, who scored 15, Jordan Burgess, who scored 14, and JeQuan Lewis, who scored 13.

If VCU has missed a beat under new head coach Will Wade, it isn’t showing.

“(He’s) just having us play hard at all times,” said Alie-Cox, who finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds against Richmond. “We don’t have a superstar this year, so we have to play like what he referred to (as using) all the clubs in the golf bag. You need everybody on the team to contribute. He’s talking about our formula, getting the ball in the paint a lot more, playing inside-out – so that’s something we really try to focus on. We just try to do that, and instead of pressing as much, just make our half-court defense a lot better. We’re still getting steals. No matter who the coach is, the players are always going to play hard regardless.”

VCU (20-7, 12-2) has won 15 of 17 since its 5-5 start and is now atop the A-10. The Rams play three of their lost four games on the road, including an away game with No. 15 Dayton (21-4, 11-2) on March 5.

“We weren’t too worried about what everyone was saying,” Alie-Cox said of VCU’s preseason expectations – or lack thereof. “Everybody was doubting us, but as a team, in our circle, we knew what we could come out here and do. They had us predicted to finish fifth and we took that as disrespect. We just try to go out there every day with a chip on our shoulder and we were back in the underdog mentality. So we just have to go out there every day, play and prove that we belong.”


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