Sophomore Treveon Graham is averaging 18.5 points per game in Atlantic 10 play.

Sophomore Treveon Graham is averaging 18.5 points per game in Atlantic 10 play.

RICHMOND, Va. – VCU reached the halfway mark of its inaugural Atlantic 10 Conference season Saturday in an enviable position, alone in first place.

The Rams, who also benefited from Richmond’s win over Xavier Saturday, cruised to their lofty perch with an 81-65 trouncing of Fordham that wasn’t even really that close. At 18-5 overall and 6-2 in the very much still up-for-grabs league, VCU has plenty to crow about.

“I think we’re doing pretty good so far,” sophomore Treveon Graham said. “We’ve got a long way to go.”

It’s already been a season of great highs – a 13-game winning streak and national ranking – and painful lows – a stunning overtime loss to rival Richmond is likely still fresh in players’ and coaches’ minds. But Sunday morning, VCU will find itself atop its new conference. The A-10 has been a dog-eat-dog league for half the season, but so far, the Rams have had one of the most dangerous barks.

After a seven-game pressure-cooker that introduced VCU to its new home, the Rams got back to the kind of performance that they spoiled us with during much of non-conference play. While Fordham was a sizable underdog, VCU put together a dominant performance based on interrogation-intensity full-court pressure and dynamic 3-point shooting.

Despite its 2-4 league record, three of Fordham’s A-10 losses had been decided by two possessions or less. That was not the case Saturday. If not for a free-flowing final six minutes that saw VCU Coach Shaka Smart tinker with multiple lineups, the game could have been even more lob-sided than 16 points.

Senior marksman Troy Daniels, who has recorded games of 11, nine and eight 3-pointers this year, found his way out of a shooting slump to bury 7-of-14 from beyond the arc. He finished with a game-high 29 points.

Poor shooting in the first half by VCU (28 percent) allowed Fordham to hang around longer than some expected, but the Black and Gold found a rhythm on offense and defense to pull away early in the second half. Led by three Daniels’ 3-pointers in a 59-second stretch, VCU stormed out of the half with a 22-7 run to push its lead to 60-40 with 12:03 left and effectively remove all drama from the contest.

A10-0202Daniels had been shooting 30 percent (14-of-47) in A-10 play, but looked more like the guy who buried 11 treys at East Tennessee State earlier this season, knocking down 5-of-7 from behind the arc in the second half alone. His recent rough patch dinged his confidence, but this week Daniels met with Smart, and it appeared the heart-to-heart helped.

“I’m really happy for Troy. Just to see him have a breakout game, because he had really been pressing and had really been hard on himself,” said Smart. “He wants to do well for his teammates so bad and when he doesn’t have one of his best games he takes it very hard.”

Defensively, Smart’s “Havoc” forced 22 turnovers, which VCU converted into 32 points. Fordham’s leading scorer, junior Branden Frazier won’t be itching for a return trip to Richmond anytime soon. He finished 2-of-12 from the field and turned the ball over six times.

It was a good way for VCU to close the first half of an A-10 season marked by much fanfare. The Rams now hold a half-game lead over Butler, Charlotte and Saint Louis as they head into a six-day break.

While the Rams would rather be nowhere else than in the A-10 lead, they’re also acutely aware of what lies ahead. There are no walkovers in the second half of VCU’s league schedule, and the Rams’ final five-game stretch includes road contests at Saint Louis, Xavier and Temple, as well as home tilts with Richmond and Butler. Of VCU’s final eight conference opponents, seven are ranked in the RPI top 100. But first, VCU has to travel to upstart Charlotte (17-4, 5-2) on Saturday, Feb. 9.

“[First place] is where we are right now, but it’s only halfway through the year,” Smart said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got a very challenging schedule coming up. We’re not really worried so much about the standings right now, we’re worried about our next game.”

ODDS AND ENDS
Smart announced Saturday that junior center D.J. Haley had taken a leave of absence from the team to tend to personal matters. Smart stressed that Haley was in good academic standing and was not being disciplined in any way…. Junior Juvonte Reddic scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to record his fourth straight double-double. He is averaging 15.5 points and 10.4 rebounds in A-10 action… Daniels moved past Joey Rodriguez and into sole possession of third place on VCU’s career 3-pointers list with Saturday’s performance. Daniels has 212 career triples… Saturday’s game was announced as the 31st straight sellout at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center… Fordham Coach Tom Pecora is now 0-8 all-time at the Siegel Center. He was previously 0-7 in the building as the coach of Hofstra.

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