February 10, 2015

VCU nearly overcame the absences of two of its top players last weekend, and will try to use its home-court advantage in its next game without Briante Weber and Treveon Graham.

The short-handed and 20th-ranked Rams will look to protect their share of the Atlantic 10 lead versus La Salle on Wednesday night.

VCU's conference title aspirations took a major hit when its point guard and catalyst of its "Havoc" defense, Weber, suffered a season-ending knee injury in a 64-55 loss to rival Richmond on Jan. 31. The Rams (18-5, 8-2) might have even more trouble in their hunt for a first A-10 regular-season crown if Graham, their leading scorer and rebounder, remains out for an extended period.

Graham, averaging 16.2 points and 6.5 boards, hurt his ankle in a 65-60 win at Rhode Island on Jan. 13. He sat out the next game at Duquesne but played three straight contests before aggravating the injury in a 72-60 victory at George Mason last Wednesday.

Without the duo, VCU rallied from a 10-point deficit in the second half at St. Bonaventure on Saturday, but the Bonnies' Marcus Posley hit a buzzer beater to send the Rams to a 73-71 defeat. Rhode Island moved into a tie atop the league with a 79-74 win at Richmond on Sunday.

"We certainly can win (without Weber and Graham). We were a possession away from it Saturday. No question the margin for error is significantly smaller when you take one of those guys away. Even more so when you take two of them away," coach Shaka Smart said. "That's what happens when you sustain injuries It happens across college basketball and other sports.

"That's why you have a team. That's why you have a roster full of guys that can hopefully step up and contribute."

Freshman guard Terry Larrier had 15 points off the bench Saturday, matching his second-most. JeQuan Lewis, who has taken over as starting point guard for Weber, had 14 points, six assists and four steals.

They'll try to help VCU to its 10th win in 12 games at home, where the Rams are averaging 78.5 points while forcing 17.1 turnovers per game. La Salle (13-10, 5-5) is 1-4 on the road in A-10 play, scoring only 56.8 points per game while shooting 40.0 percent.

"It's an opportunity for them to do what they know how to do," Smart said. "They're all Division I athletes. It's just a window for them. They just have to go with it. Don't stress about it. Just play."

The Explorers had a three-game overall win streak snapped with a 66-59 loss at Massachusetts on Sunday.

Leading scorer Jordan Price (16.6 ppg) had 30 points - his most in conference play - on 10-of-20 shooting but none of his teammates scored more than eight points and combined for 28.6 percent shooting (10 of 35).

Price, a sophomore, sat out last season after transferring from Auburn and watched La Salle's double-overtime 97-89 home loss to the Rams. Graham had a career-best 34 points and 12 rebounds while Weber provided 12 points, five assists and five steals.

VCU is 4-1 all-time against La Salle but suffered a 69-61 defeat in the most recent matchup in Richmond on Jan. 26, 2013. The Rams were ranked 19th in that game.

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