Senior Treveon Grahams’ 22 points helped VCU defeat Fordham University, 63-57, to advance to the quarterfinal round in the Atlantic 10 tournament. The win was VCU’s 14th straight opening round conference victory.
Played on Thursday, March 12, VCU improved to 5-0 in the all-time head-to-head matchups against the Fordham Rams. VCU entered the A-10 tournament as the fifth seed. Fordham earned its second straight opening round win against George Mason University after missing the tournament the previous five seasons.
In their last meeting on Jan. 4, VCU recorded a conference-high 21 steals resulting in a VCU win at the Rose Hill Gym. Both Graham and Briante Weber scored 14 points each.
Graham, Jarred Guest, Doug Brooks, JeQuan Lewis and Mo Alie-Cox were nabbed the starters. Last season’s A-10 Sixth Man of the Year Melvin Johnson came off the bench. Johnson started 29 of 31 regular season games this season.
Almost three minutes into the game, Fordham forward Ryan Rhoomes scored the games first two points. Down two, Larrier scored VCU’s first five points but picked up two fouls early. Fordham responds with seven answered prior to a Graham floater in the key to bring the Rams within two, 9-7.
VCU retakes the lead, but back-to-back three-pointer by senior Bryan Smith put the Fordham Rams up five, 27-22, with 3:43 remaining in the first half. After trading baskets, Fordham would remain in front 30-27 with one minute remaining before a Graham three-pointer tied the game.
Entering halftime, both teams were tied, 30-30.
In the first half, Fordham scored 6-8 from the three-point line. VCU struggled beyond the arc, shooting 5-13. Five different VCU Rams scored in the first half with Graham’s 11 points leading the way. Both teams shot under 70 percent from the charity stripe in the first half.
No team could create much of a lead in the first half. The Fordham Rams’ biggest lead was five points to VCU’s four. The story would be much of the same in the second half.
Coming out of the break, Graham scored VCU’s first five points in the second half.
Fordham would eventually pull the game even at 40 with less than 13 minutes to play. Fordham would outscore VCU 9-4 over the next four minutes to capture a five-point lead, 49-44, with 9:09 remaining.
Two free-throws by Alie Cox, his first point of the game, netted the 49-49 with seven minutes remaining. Alie-Cox faced stifling defense under the basket throughout the game; however a monstrous dunk put the Rams up one 53-52. On the ensuing possession, freshman guard Jonathan Williams finished with a one-handed floater in the lane to put VCU up three, 55-52.
Melvin Johnson believed Alie-Cox and Williams spark in the second half led the team to a resurgence after the team was down five with under ten minutes to play.
“From that point on, our huddles got a little more tighter and our leaders stepped up and pretty much said we got more stops and guys responded,” Johnson said. “And Jonathan (Williams) he played a huge part. He came in, pressured the ball, found the open guys and that was the big push for us.”
A few possession laters, an Alie-Cox block led to Johnson’s made three-pointer with 2:24 remaining gave VCU a six-point lead, their biggest of the game up to that point. VCU would not relinquish the lead for the remainder of the game, winning the contest 63-57.
Freshman forward Christian Sengfelder entered the game coming off his best performance of the season, scoring 27 points against George Mason University. Against VCU, Sengfelder was held to five points total.
Johnson ended his shooting slump, as the junior went 4-7 from behind the arc and 5-8 from the field. The Bronx native did not attribute his game to the homecoming.
“I don’t think it’s the arena,” Johnson said. “I think it’s focus. I was ready to play. He (Shaka Smart) had the game plan, we knew how dangerous they were offensively.”
“Got to give a lot of credit to Fordham,” Shaka Smart, head coach, said after the game. “They’ve gotten better and better over the course of the year and those young guys are really making strides.”
Four Fordham players scored double-figures: Severe (14), Suarez (13), Thomas (12) and Smith (11).
Three VCU players scored double-figures: Graham (22), Johnson (16) and Larrier (10).