George Washington-VCU Preview
A late layup in its last game inched VCU closer to its longest winning streak under Shaka Smart, though its shooting woes could be a concern entering a matchup with one of the Atlantic 10's top defensive teams.
With a spot atop the conference at stake, the 14th-ranked Rams will try for a 12th straight victory and 16th consecutive league home win Tuesday night against stingy George Washington.
Treveon Graham came back strong from a one-game absence Friday, hitting the winner with 0.9 seconds left in a 63-61 victory at Saint Louis that moved the Rams (16-3, 6-0) within two wins of a 13-game run they had under Smart in 2012-13.
''I always want the ball in those types of situations,'' he said. ''I'm either going to make a shot or find my teammates.''
Graham, averaging a team-high 17.3 points, finished with 21 points and six rebounds after missing most of the practice week with an ankle injury that sidelined him in a 70-64 victory at Duquesne on Jan. 17.
The senior guard has averaged 22.0 points on 54.8 percent shooting in his last three games, but VCU struggled with a 38.9 field-goal percentage while sweeping a three-game road stretch that began with a 65-60 win over Rhode Island on Jan. 13.
The Rams, second in the A-10 with 75.1 points per game, have been much more efficient at home with 81.9 points on 46.1 percent shooting in winning eight of nine. They haven't dropped a league game on their own floor since Jan. 26, 2013.
VCU has won its first six conference games for the first time since 2006-07, when it was in the Colonial Athletic Association. It may have to bounce back offensively to keep George Washington (16-4, 6-1) from jumping into first place.
The Colonials rank third in the A-10 with 59.4 points allowed per game and second with a 39.6 defensive field-goal percentage. They lead the conference with a plus-5.5 rebounding margin, while VCU is 12th at minus-2.2.
George Washington limited Duquesne to 18 first-half points en route to its fourth straight win, 74-59 on Saturday.
McDonald has reached double figures in each of the past four games after averaging 8.9 in the first 16, while Garino has averaged 16.7 points on 55.6 percent shooting over his last three.
"He's tough to guard when he's got the ball ahead," coach Mike Lonergan said of Garino, averaging a team-high 13.6 points.
Although it has averaged 79.1 points during a 9-0 start at home, George Washington has scored 56.7 and committed 14.0 turnovers per game while dropping four of its last six on the road.
The upset-minded Colonials will now have to contend with a VCU team that ranks in the top 10 nationally by forcing 17.6 turnovers per game and averaging 10.4 steals. The Rams are 13-0 when holding opponents under 70 points.
George Washington trails the all-time series 6-1 and has dropped its last two visits by a combined 44 points. Graham totaled 47 points and hit 7 of 12 from 3-point range in VCU's two wins in three meetings last season.