Second-half burst lefts VCU past ETSU, 84-60
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) Melvin Johnson doesn't know when he's going to be ''feeling it,'' but he does know this: Whether he's making shots or not, VCU coach Shaka Smart tells him to keep shooting.
Johnson came alive after halftime for the second game in a row Monday night, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers to spark an 18-2 second-half run and the Rams broke open a close game and beat East Tennessee State 84-60, Johnson and Co.'s fourth consecutive victory.
''I never know,'' Johnson said. ''I honestly just keep shooting.''
Johnson's first field goal gave VCU (9-3) a 38-29 lead. He connected again 44 seconds later and with the crowd whipped up by the consecutive long-range buckets, the Rams took over at both ends, forcing five turnovers as they quickly built their lead to 53-31.
''When he's making shots, we all feed off it,'' senior guard Treveon Graham said.
Johnson scored 12 of his 15 points after halftime, and it came one game after he scored all 18 of his points in the second half to fuel a Rams' blowout victory at Cincinnati.
''He's such a big part of our team making runs and it doesn't have to be from the outside,'' Smart said. ''I thought in the first half for the second game in a row he was pressing a little bit. ... In the second half, he really did a good job of regrouping and following the process, and then when you do that, good things happen.''
Jalen Riley led ETSU (6-3) with 18 points and Lester Wilson had 11, but the Buccaneers had more turnovers (22) than field goals (20) after the sloppy start took them out of it.
VCU turned their takeaways into 23 points.
''Relentless pressure,'' Buccaneers coach Murry Bartow said. ''We just hadn't seen anything quite like that. If you turn it over a lot against them, it's going to avalanche on you.''
Johnson led VCU with 15 points, Treveon Graham scored 13 and Michael Gilmore had 10.
Johnson, who missed all seven of his shots and managed just three points in the first half against the Buccaneers, hit from the right corner just 48 seconds into the second half, then from deep on the left side, standing not far from where Smart was watching.
A three-point play by Mo Alie-Cox and a 3-pointer by Jordan Burgess followed, and the 56th consecutive sellout crowd at the Siegel Center grew more and more raucous with each steal and each basket.
Freshman Terry Larrier finished the burst with a steal at midcourt and a one-handed dunk.
The Buccaneers, who tied a school record with 15 3-pointers in a victory over Eastern Kentucky last Sunday, hit three early ones and attempted 24, but got only nine to fall.
East Tennessee State: The Buccaneers fell to 0-11 in their history against VCU.
VCU: In the Rams' last meeting with the Buccaneers, on Jan. 2, 2013 at Johnson City, Tennessee, Troy Daniels made 11 3-pointers and VCU won 109-58.
VCU's four starters other than Johnson were 13 for 21 from the field. The Buccaneers' starting five was 12 for 29 and Rashawn Rembert, who had 30 in the last game, was 2 for 9 and scored 10 points. One of his baskets was a 3-pointer that fell as the final horn sounded.
VCU's Briante Weber had seven steals, moving into a tie with Devan Downey for 10th on the NCAA's all-time list with 342. He's just 44 from overtaking career leader John Linehan, who finished with 385 in a career at Providence from 1998-2002.
East Tennessee State plays at Tennessee on Dec. 31.
VCU hosts Cleveland State on Dec. 29
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