RICHMOND, Va. (AP) Treveon Graham doesn’t need to be the focal point to have a big impact for No. 25 VCU.
The senior scored 16 points and brought his savvy back to the Siegel Center on Tuesday night, playing just 22 minutes but leading the Rams to a 74-54 victory against Saint Louis that put VCU back atop the Atlantic 10 standings.
”It feels pretty good,” Graham said of the high left ankle sprain that had either hobbled him, or sidelined him, for a month. He’s been get twice-daily treatments to return. ”I can run without a limp. I’m still not 100 percent, but me coming back and being on the court with these guys and leading and being able to do some of the things I used to do is good.”
The Rams made it possible for him to have an easy night, too, using a 23-5 run spanning the halves to take command.
VCU (20-6, 10-3 Atlantic 10) also cranked back up its defensive pressure against the young Billikens. The Rams had backed off their 94 feet of pressure with Graham injured, but forced 14 turnovers and turned them into 19 points.
”He’s basically like a teacher,” freshman guard Jonathan Williams said. ”You just learn a lot from him. He’ll tell you spots you need to be, rotations you should do. He’s been doing it for four years and he’s very good at it.”
Coach Shaka Smart said Graham has been more vocal as the season has gone on, perhaps appreciating that his final season is coming to an end. A season-ending injury to fellow senior Briante Weber on Jan. 31 might have helped, too.
”He’s just a very savvy player who has got great basketball IQ,” Smart said of Graham. ”He knows what he’s doing. He talks. He’s our best communicator and he’s very good at following the scouting report and the plan.”
Those skills are things the young Billikens are still learning.
”We’ve gotten better,” coach Jim Crews said. ”Some things don’t show up at times. We’re not very consistent with things. We’ll stay with the process. Everything is a learning experience for us.”
Saint Louis (10-16, 2-11) lost its third straight to a team tied for the Atlantic 10 lead. The Rams, Dayton, Rhode Island and Massachusetts all started the night tied at the top with 9-3 league records, but VCU was the only one in action.
Freshman Milik Yarbrough scored 17 to lead Saint Louis. Miles Reynolds and Marcus Bartley each added nine.
Freshman Michael Gilmore had 10 for the Rams.
VCU ended the first half on a 20-5 run, giving the Rams a 34-22 lead at the intermission. The Rams then started the second half by forcing two Billikens turnovers before Melvin Johnson made a 3-pointer.
With Graham sidelines, VCU lost on a basket at the buzzer at Saint Bonaventure and then in double-overtime at home against La Salle, then beat George Washington as he returned in a key conference game in Washington on Saturday.
The Rams quickly took control against the Billikens, rallying from a 17-14 deficit by holding Saint Louis scoreless for more than 7 1/2 minutes. The Rams managed only 12 in the stretch, but with Yarbrough providing the Billikens with their only scoring threat, it was more than enough.
Saint Louis: The Billikens’ last victory against a ranked team came when they beat VCU, then ranked No. 25 in the 2013 Atlantic 10 championship game. Saint Louis has lost seven in a row against ranked teams since.
VCU: Seldom-used walk-on Torey Burston made his first 3-pointer in the closing minutes, drawing wild applause. Freshman Michael Gilmore, who is 6-foot-9, made two 3s, his fourth and fifth of the season.
I’LL TAKE THAT
Even without Weber, who is awaiting surgery to repair a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus in his right knee and who watched from the bench, the Rams had more steals, 10, than turnovers, eight, and nearly as many blocks with seven.
Milik Yarbrough made eight of Saint Louis’ 17 field goals, in just 13 attempts. The other nine came in 32 attempts.
Saint Louis: Hosts La Salle on Sunday.
VCU: Hosts Massachusetts on Saturday.
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