Graham, Johnson lead No. 15 VCU over Toledo 87-78
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Commonwealth’s trademark Havoc style — full-court, in-your-face pressure defense — can eventually wear down an opponent, and that was certainly the case Tuesday night against a talented Toledo team.
The Rockets, who returned seven of their top eight players from a 27-7 team, stayed with No. 15 VCU for most of the game but faltered in the final three minutes, allowing the Rams to pull away for an 87-78 victory in their home opener.
“I think just our style of play finally took a toll,” said VCU coach Shaka Smart, who liberally substituted in the first half. “Both teams had guys that played heavy minutes. At the end of the game, we went into our diamond press and turned them over a couple of times. That allowed us to finally extend the margin in what had obviously been a close game.”
Senior Treveon Graham and junior Melvin Johnson each scored 22 points for the Rams (2-0), who took control of the game with nine unanswered points down the stretch.
“Just defense,” said Graham of the Rams’ run. “We changed our press up a little bit. Got a couple of stops. Made free throws at the end. That let us pull away a little bit. We made some tough shots and got some tough rebounds that we needed.”
Toledo (1-1) stayed even with VCU for most of the evening, but too many turnovers in the closing minutes allowed the Rams to escape with a win —their 21st straight at the Siegel Center.
“A lack of focus,” said Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk. “We had a couple of guys that just made some careless decisions.”
Center Nathan Boothe led the Rockets with 18 points but was held to four in the second half when he got into foul trouble. Guard Julius Brown contributed 17 points, mostly on 5 of 7 shooting from behind the 3-point arc.
There were nine ties and the lead changed hands 12 times, before the Rams pulled away.
Two foul shots by Graham gave VCU a 75-72 edge. Then Johnson buried a 3-pointer from the right wing to boost the advantage to six points. A steal and layup by Briante Weber made it 80-72 and two free throws by Mo Alie-Cox completed the run with 1:10 left.
Weber, who finished with 18 points, nine steals, eight rebounds and seven assists, was playing in his first game after sitting out the opener because of a misdemeanor theft charge during the summer.
“He’s an absolute game-changer,” Kowalczyk said of Weber. “If he’s not the best defensive player in this country, I want to see who is.
Toledo: Brown has started every game of his collegiate career and Tuesday night marked his 100th contest in a Rockets’ uniform. The senior is a member of the Bob Cousy point guard award watch list but was held without an assist. He’s second on the school’s all-time list for assists (559). . This was only the second all-time meeting between the two schools. Toledo took the first one 60-59 during the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands during the 2006-07 season. . Freshman guard Stuckey Mosley had nine points.
VCU: Backup point guard JeQuan Lewis, who suffered a concussion in the Rams’ season-opening win over Tennessee, did not dress for the Toledo game and is expected to sit out Thursday’s game against Md.-Eastern Shore. Lewis only played five minutes against Tennessee before hitting the floor during a rebound battle. . The crowd of 7,637 marked the 51st straight sellout at the Siegel Center, where the Rams are 194-29 in the building’s 16-year history.
Toledo flies cross country to meet Oregon in Eugene on Friday.
VCU is at home to Maryland-Eastern Shore on Thursday.