February 16, 2015

Treveon Graham normally is counted on to be his squad's go-to scorer, but his recent absence showed that his mere presence helps VCU in multiple ways on the offensive end.

Saint Louis became well aware of Graham's many contributions in the first meeting.

The 25th-ranked Rams look to take sole possession of first place in the Atlantic 10 when they host the struggling Billikens on Tuesday night.

Graham has been dealing with an ankle problem for the last few weeks, and a high left sprain finally forced him to miss time. VCU (19-6, 9-3) fell 73-71 at St. Bonaventure on Feb. 7 and 74-69 to La Salle in double overtime Wednesday without its leading scorer.

The senior guard, averaging 15.9 points, returned Saturday and scored 10 in 30 minutes of a 79-66 victory over George Washington while also drawing attention that left his teammates with clear looks.

Melvin Johnson scored 17 points and hit 5 of 8 from 3-point range, while Doug Brooks scored a career-best 14 while shooting 4 of 6 from behind the arc.

''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.''

Coach Shaka Smart's team forced 16 turnovers with its "Havoc" defense. VCU, which is tied with Dayton, Rhode Island and Massachusetts atop the Atlantic 10, ranks among the nation's leaders with 16.9 takeaways per game.

The rest of the conference is idle Tuesday.

''It's a huge psychological lift because (Graham) gives us just a calming presence even before he even touches the ball or shoots the ball,'' Smart said. ''Having a senior out there who is an all-league caliber player makes a huge difference for us.''

Graham provided the deciding bucket at Saint Louis on Jan. 23, scoring the last of his 21 points after driving the length of the floor for a layup with 0.9 seconds remaining in a 63-61 victory.

That defeat for the Billikens (10-15, 2-10) is one of seven during an eight-game stretch. They've dropped three straight after falling 81-68 at Rhode Island on Saturday despite shooting 51.4 percent.

Saint Louis' 22 turnovers marked its most since having 23 in a loss to Richmond on Jan. 30, 2010.

"We were careless with the ball, but it's not just one guy," coach Jim Crews said. "It's five guys. They have to relocate. They have to speed to their screens. They have to peak for their operational areas on the floor in terms of spacing. It's a combination of all of that stuff."

Freshman Miles Reynolds, who went in averaging 3.3 points in limited minutes, went 4 of 5 from the field and 13 of 15 from the free-throw line for a season-high 21 points.

Reynolds hopes to provide a boost for a Billikens squad going through a down season after winning a game in each of the last three NCAA tournaments.

"Our record is not indicative of our talent," Reynolds said. "We're just focused on finishing the season strong."

VCU has won the last two meetings after dropping the previous three.

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