Johnson leads No. 15 VCU past Tennessee 85-69
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Melvin Johnson had a simple explanation for a first half in which the missed only two shots, scored 20 points and provided Virginia Commonwealth with a commanding lead.
“When I got the opportunity to shoot, I shot it,” he said. “It was just my day.”
With Johnson leading the way, No. 15 VCU built an 18-point halftime lead and beat Tennessee 85-69 Friday night in the Veterans Classic.
Johnson finished with 23 points, and Treveon Graham had 15 points and 14 rebounds to help the Rams win their 10th straight season opener.
“That was one of the weirdest games I’ve coached at VCU. A lot of strange twists and turns,” coach Shaka Smart said. “I thought our guys responded well to some adversity.”
VCU played most of the game without starting point guard JeQuan Lewis, who left with 8:19 remaining in the first half after slamming his head on the court. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Lewis took a spill dueling for a rebound with 6-10, 280-pound forward Dominic Woodson.
Smart said Lewis received a concussion.
With Lewis out, Graham, a senior, and Johnson, a 6-3 junior, took over. After Johnson helped put the Rams up 48-30 at the break, Graham made the lead stand up in the second half.
“I thought these guys did a good job of leading our team when we could have gotten a little bit frazzled,” Smart said.
After falling behind 55-35 with 16:44 remaining, Tennessee closed to 67-59 but could not complete the comeback.
Josh Richardson and Detrick Mostella each scored 17 for Tennessee, playing its first game under coach Donnie Tyndall. The Volunteers have nine newcomers and only four scholarship players back from last season.
“We knew there would be three main keys: To handle their pressure and not turn it over; No. 2, to keep them off the offensive backboards; and No. 3, to get to the foul line more than them,” Tyndall said. “We didn’t achieve of those.
The Volunteers had 19 turnovers, yielded 23 offensive rebounds and were outscored 24-17 at the line.
Tennessee didn’t have the quickness or depth to hang with VCU, which returns six of its top eight scorers from a year ago and is seeking a fifth straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
A poor start didn’t help.
“We just didn’t play well in the first half,” Tyndall said.
Johnson sure did. In addition to scoring 20 of his team’s first 36 points, he called the defensive plays, took charge of huddles at the foul line and had two of Rams’ eight steals.
Johnson had 20 of the Rams’ first 36 points. Even though he played only 13 minutes in the first half, he still had time to take 10 shots, get two steals and pick up an assist.
The inaugural Veterans Classic concluded with No. 18 Michigan State facing Navy.
Tennessee: Before the game, the Vols wore warmup shirts with “McKAMEY” on the back and “I WILL” on the front. It was a salute to Knoxville native and former Navy football player Will McKamey, who died on March 25 after collapsing on the practice field.
VCU: Under coach Shaka Smart, the Rams have led the country in steals in each of the last three years. In this one, they had 10 steals by six different players.
Tennessee: Hosts Texas Southern on Thursday.
VCU:Hosts Toledo on Tuesday.
LOVING NAVY: Smart said his team will not soon forget their time at Navy.
“It’s been a phenomenal experience,” he said. “It gave our coaches and players a real appreciation of what goes on here. This was a first-class event; the people at the Naval Academy did a phenomenal job. For any team that has the opportunity, they need to get here.”