Freshman Treveon Graham scored a game-high 18 points in 23 minutes Thursday

RICHMOND, Va. – VCU’s best offensive player in Thursday night’s 65-45 win over James Madison was its chiseled 6-foot-5 swingman, who displayed a varied skill set that allowed him to score from a number of different spots on the floor. Yup, Treveon Graham was pretty darn good against the Dukes. Oh, were you thinking of someone else?

Senior Bradford Burgess didn’t have a good shooting night, but Graham, a freshman from Washington, D.C. managed a pretty compelling Burgess impersonation, tying a career-high with 18 points to lift a sagging VCU offense.

Graham apparently had JMU Coach Matt Brady convinced.

“I had never seen him before tonight. He’s a really good player,” Brady said. “He seems like a little version of Brad Burgess, so they’ve got a really good player.”

Graham’s performance couldn’t have come at a much better time. Burgess (3-of-11), as well as sophomores Juvonte Reddic (1-of-10) and Rob Brandenberg (0-of-2) all had dreadful shooting nights, but Graham knocked down 6-of-10 shots through a series of effective drives and 2-of-3 shooting from 3-point range. The VCU rookie, who ranks second on the team in free throw attempts, also reached the foul line six times.

VCU managed just two field goals the first 4:52 of the second half and watched a 33-24 disintegrate. The Dukes took advantage of the Rams’ stagnant offense, staging a 13-4 run to knot the game at 37-37. But Graham buried a go-ahead 3-pointer with 15:08 remaining and provided another five points over the course of an extended VCU run on the way to a 20-point rout.

“I was feeling it today, so I just kept attacking the basket and getting fouls and getting to the line and that created more offense for the team,” Graham said.

Earlier this season, Graham provided games of 15 and 18 points off the bench for the Rams, but averaged just 4.0 points in back-to-back losses to Georgia State and Drexel last week. VCU shot a combined 32 percent and averaged less than 56 points in those games, so VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart challenged Graham to be ready to make a difference.

“My biggest emphasis with Tre has been just being ready to make the next play, whether it’s shoot when he catches or drive, or on the defensive end, being ready to close out and contest a shot,” Smart said.

Graham is shooting 53 percent from the field and averaging 8.2 points per game in his last 11 contests.

“After the last two losses, coach just came to me and said I needed to play my game,” said Graham, who is averaging 6.5 points a game this season. “In other games I was real tentative with the ball. When I got it I wasn’t ready to play, and today he just told me to come out loose and play and that’s what I did.”

Early in the season, Graham struggled, scoring 20 points while shooting 2-of-19 in his first six games combined. Since, he’s averaging 8.2 points per game and shooting 53 percent (31-of-59) from the field, including 40 percent (8-of-20) from 3-point range.

Graham is at his best when he’s putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim, which he did effectively again Thursday. He’s adept at finishing in traffic, as well as drawing contact to get to the foul line. Despite averaging 14.7 minutes a game, Graham’s 59 free throw attempts trail only Burgess on the team.

VCU will need more from Graham moving forward. The Rams have identified themselves as either a team of limited shooting ability or one mired in a season-long funk. Three of the Rams’ top four scorers are shooting 38 percent or worse for the year. They could use a guy who knows how to make the scoreboard move. If he keeps playing like he did against the Dukes, Graham will likely take pressure off of Burgess, to who is increasingly compared, and others.

“He played well. He did what he does. He can score. He can put the ball in the basket and he can get to the foul line,” Smart said. “That’s what we liked in him when we watched him during recruiting process and I think he’s getting more and more comfortable out there.”

Graham’s early success isn’t that much different than that of Burgess, who played considerable minutes and hit big shots as a freshman during the 2008-09 season. Now, after 127 straight starts and 1,437 points, Burgess knows a game-changer when he sees one.

“Tre’s always been known as a scorer and when he came in, that’s what he’s done since day one,” Burgess said. “The other aspects of the game are coming along well. Being a freshman his learning curve has increased, but he’s coming along great and will have a great career here. He’ll keep improving every day and be one of the best players in VCU history when it’s all said and done.”

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