RICHMOND, Va. – It’s unclear who had more spring in their step Tuesday, Treveon Graham or VCU fans after seeing the Rams’ star look sharp in a 74-54 rout of Saint Louis at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.
Graham has been nursing a high ankle sprain, originally suffered Jan. 13 at Rhode Island and re-aggravated Feb. 4 at George Mason. The injury has cost Graham three games this season, and VCU has lost two of them.
It’s clear the ailment has affected Graham’s explosiveness of late, a source of concern for fans aware of his importance to this team, especially given the loss of Briante Weber two weeks ago.
But Graham looked much like his old self in Tuesday’s win. He scored VCU’s first eight points against the Billikens. He appeared to have good lift on his jumpers and out-jumped several other players for an early tip-in. Graham finished with a team-high 16 points and six rebounds.
“Yeah, I felt pretty good today,” Graham said afterwards. “Every day I’m getting better and better. I just wanted to come out and be aggressive. If I came out aggressive, I felt like my teammates would come [along].”
VCU Coach Shaka Smart assured people that his trained eyes also saw a more dynamic Graham Tuesday night.
“It’s a big lift he gave us, because our other guys were struggling to score early in the game. I thought tonight was the best that he’s moved since he sustained the injury. So that was good,” said Smart. “He and our athletic trainer have been working really hard around the clock with treatment and different modalities to work on that thing. Sometimes it’s frustrating because it doesn’t seem like it’s doing much, but I thought tonight it was a different bounce that he had and explosiveness.”
The Rams leading scorer the last three seasons, Graham has been limited in practice in recent weeks due to the injury. He scored 10 points Saturday in a win at George Washington after missing back-to-back games against St. Bonaventure and La Salle.
Freshman Michael Gilmore matched a season-high with 10 points, while classmate Jonathan Williams handed out six assists to lead a strong bench corps Tuesday.
VCU got 36 points from its bench against Saint Louis. That kind of productivity helped Smart limit his starters’ minutes. Given recent injuries to Weber and Graham, it was a welcome development. Graham played just 22 minutes.
“It’s important because I thought about putting [Graham] back in, and under normal circumstances I would have put him back in with about six minutes left because the game wasn’t completely over. But then I thought to myself, ‘hey, these other guys are doing a good job and he certainly can use the rest. It’s really helpful,” Smart said.
That rest will be critical for Graham and the Rams moving forward. VCU will meet UMass Saturday at the Verizon Wireless Arena in a critical Atlantic 10 Conference contest.
For Gilmore and Williams, it was evidence of continued growth. Gilmore, who missed eight of his first nine 3-pointers this season, buried two of three triples in the game. He’s made 4-of-6 from that range of late.
“I thought Mike Gilmore gave us a really big lift. He’s going to be a really good player once he realizes he can settle down and play but I thought he did some really nice things tonight,” said Smart.
Gilmore says he’s getting more comfortable on the floor.
“It’s confidence, comfort and following the process…it’s just me getting my touch right and having comfort shooting the ball,” he said.
It was the second straight solid effort for Williams, who finished with 5 points, 6 assists, 2 steals and 0 turnovers.
His nightly performance has taken on a new level of importance since Weber’s injury. Now the primary backup for the Rams at point guard behind JeQuan Lewis, Williams has played double-figure minutes in each of the last five games. He’d done so just once in the seven games prior to Weber’s season-ending knee injury. After some early struggles, Williams has averaged 7.0 points and 4.0 assists in the last two games.
“I think we’re getting a lot more comfortable with each other,” the Richmond native said. “Because, I’m not going to front, the first game Bri was out, I was kind of nervous because it was my first time playing a lot of minutes, so I just had to get comfortable. These guys believe in me. They push me every day in practice no matter what mistake I make, they tell me, ‘everybody is going to make mistakes. Just keep playing. Keep going hard.’”
ODDS AND ENDS
- Redshirt sophomore Torey Burston scored the first field goal of his career when he buried a 3-pointer from the left wing with 1:25 remaining in Tuesday’s game. Burston, a walk-on from Richmond, had missed his previous nine field goal attempts the last two seasons.
- Mo Alie-Cox blocked three shots to reach 100 for his career. His 51 blocked shots this season are just outside VCU’s all-time single-season list.
- Despite a Monday snowstorm, VCU managed its 63rd consecutive sellout.
- Former Ram Rob Brandenberg was in attendance Tuesday.
- VCU held Saint Louis scoreless for 7:27 of the first half.
- Tuesday’s win gave VCU its ninth consecutive 20-win season. The Rams are 20-6 this year.