November 19, 2014

Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart's 'Havoc' defense can cause problems to the best of opponents.

His 15th-ranked squad figures to do plenty of damage against an overmatched opponent playing for the second straight night.

The Rams look for their 22nd straight home win Thursday night when they meet Maryland-Eastern Shore in their final tuneup before a major tournament next week.

VCU (2-0) used its trademark defense to wear down Toledo in an 87-78 victory in its home opener Tuesday. The Rams used a 9-0 spurt late to establish a 10-point lead with 1:14 left.

''Just defense,'' said Treveon Graham, who matched Melvin Johnson for the team lead with 22 points. ''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.''

The Rams forced 21 turnovers. That's nothing new since VCU has led the nation in that category each of the last three previous seasons, inducing 18.2 turnovers per game in 2013-14.

The Rockets committed 12 second-half turnovers.

''I think just our style of play finally took a toll,'' Smart said. ''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."

No player exemplified the Rams' defensive level better than Briante Weber, who made his season debut after he was suspended for the opener for reportedly stealing an iPhone over the summer. Weber had 18 points, nine steals and seven assists.

Weber led the nation last season with 121 steals.

VCU played without JeQuan Lewis, who started the season-opening 85-69 win over Tennessee on Nov. 14 and suffered a concussion. Lewis is expected to sit out Thursday.

The Rams haven't lost at home since a 69-61 defeat to La Salle on Jan. 26, 2013. They won't expect to lose this one ahead of next week's Legends Classic in Brooklyn, where they face No. 12 Villanova and either No. 24 Michigan or Oregon.

Maryland-Eastern Shore (1-2) won't have much time to prepare after winning 53-41 at Mount St. Mary's on Wednesday. Devon Walker scored 14 points to give first-year coach Bobby Collins his first win.

This contest represents one final chance for Smart to be liberal with his minutes before facing tougher competition. Nine players have logged at least 22 minutes.

"Now is when you really as a team get to find out are we about the team or are we about the team only when it's going the way I want it to go for me," Smart said. "This is a really interesting time, our next I would say three to five games, on where our guys are mentally."

VCU won 70-51 the last time these teams met in the 2007-08 opener.

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