WASHINGTON (AP) The return of Treveon Graham from a two-game absence gave VCU the boost it needed.
Melvin Johnson scored 17 points, hitting five 3-pointers, and No. 20 Virginia Commonwealth snapped a two-game losing streak with a 79-66 victory at George Washington on Saturday.
Doug Brooks added 14 points and Mo Alie-Cox 10 for the Rams (19-6, 9-3 Atlantic 10), who entered part of a four-way tie for first place in the conference despite losing three of four games. Losing the A-10 preseason Player of the Year to a left high ankle sprain hurt the cause.
Graham started and scored 10 points in 30 minutes against GW (17-8, 7-5).
''It's a huge psychological lift because he gives us just a calming presence even before he even touches the ball or shoots the ball,'' VCU coach Shaka Smart said. ''Having a senior out there who is an all-league caliber player makes a huge difference for us.''
The difference wasn't just mental. VCU labored from long distance over its previous five games, including Wednesday's 74-69 double-overtime home loss to La Salle. The Rams sank 12 of 30 3-pointers on Saturday.
''As of late, I've heard teams talk about deny (me) or stay attached to the shooter,'' Johnson said. ''Now, when Treveon has the ball, you might want to gravitate a little bit towards him, which opens up the floor for guys like me. I love him being back.''
George Washington's Mike Lonergan did not.
''I really thought Shaka should have rested him one more game,'' the coach cracked. ''He killed us. Even though he (only) had 10 points, he's a threat.''
Lonergan somehow kept his sense of humor despite the Colonials' clear struggles and declining NCAA Tournament hopes. GW also had lost three of four games including a stunning 78-62 setback at Duquesne on Wednesday.
Patricio Garino scored 22 points and Joe McDonald 12 for the Colonials. GW shot 33 percent after halftime.
VCU defeated George Washington 72-48 on Jan. 27 at home. Injuries to senior point guard Briante Weber and Graham soon followed.
Leading 48-47, VCU took command with a 10-1 run. After GW pulled within 58-53, Johnson's 3-pointer stopped the momentum shift.
''Particularly in the second half, when they were able to make a play, our guys were able to counterpunch,'' Smart said.
The Rams led 76-61 with 2:10 remaining on two free throws by Graham.
VCU: Opponents average 17.0 turnovers against the ''Havoc'' pressure defense on the season, but the Rams only forced 12.7 in their previous three losses.
George Washington committed 16 turnovers, mostly unforced, which VCU turned into 21 points. ''They are very good defensively,'' Lonergan said of the Rams. ''We had a lot of unnecessary turnovers in the second half. Not against the press, but really in the frontcourt and they took advantage.''
George Washington: The Colonials had won 12 straight home games including all 10 this season. GW defeated VCU 76-66 at home last season.
Johnson sank his first three 3-point attempts as VCU raced out to a 22-13, but the score was tied at 38 at the half. The Rams missed 12 of their final 16 attempts while the Colonials shot 59 percent from the field.
Despite the season-ending injury, Weber donned his VCU uniform for the game. The senior, who led college basketball with 3.9 steals per game, suffered a season-ending right knee injury on Jan. 31 at Richmond.
VCU: returns home to face Saint Louis on Tuesday.
George Mason: hosts Davidson on Wednesday.