With Johnson injured, reserves must step up

Sophomore Melvin Johnson injured his left knee in the Rams’ win against George Washington University in the A-10 tournament semifinals. There is no timetable for his return. Photo by Audry Dubon.

Colin Kennedy
Sports Editor

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Sophomore guard Melvin Johnson was knocked out of  Saturday’s Atlantic 10 semifinal game against George Washington University with a left knee injury, leaving the VCU men’s basketball team without the A-10’s sixth man of the year for the remainder of the tournament and perhaps the NCAA tournament, too.

No timetable has been given for Johnson’s return, but head coach Shaka Smart said his presence in the starting lineup would be sorely missed.

“When Mel (Johnson) went down that was a hit to our team, to our guys, to our coaching staff because he’s one of the guys that everyone on our team absolutely adores, including the coaches,” Smart said. “And secondly, he’s a very, very good player.”

Junior Treveon Graham, the Rams’ leading scorer, echoed Smart’s sentiments.

“He’s a loving person,” Graham said. “He’s easy to get along with and he’s one of the funniest guys on the team so it’s great to be around him.”

Redshirt freshman Jordan Burgess started in Johnson’s place in Sunday’s A-10 championship game. Johnson was VCU’s third-leading scorer, averaging 10.4 points in 22.4 minutes per game. Burgess averages 4.8 points in 21.1 minutes per game.

Beyond the numbers, the Rams are losing their best three-point shooter, which could drastically impact their tournament chances.

Burgess provides VCU with superior defense, but shoots the perimeter shot at a 32 percent clip compared to Johnson’s 40 percent conversion rate.

If Johnson is forced to sit out during the NCAA tournament, head coach Shaka Smart may have to tweak his half-court offense. With Johnson on the floor, VCU is able to stretch the floor, which creates driving lanes for guards Briante Weber and Rob Brandenberg.

Though Johnson doesn’t contribute too much beneath the arc, Burgess is also fairly one-dimensional. Sixty-six of Johnson’s 123 field goals on the year have been three pointers and 22 of Burgess’ 45 baskets have come from long distance.

“When Melvin went out with the injury it really hit us because he’s a great player, a player that we look for,” Graham said.

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