SECOND CHANCES, JOHNSON’S RETURN TO FORM FUEL SECOND SEASON

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Melvin Johnson hit 4-of-7 three-pointers and scored 16 points to help lift VCU past Fordham Thursday.

Melvin Johnson hit 4-of-7 three-pointers and scored 16 points to help lift VCU past Fordham Thursday.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – An unfortunate consequence of poor shooting is the tendency to worry about more poor shooting. The key to breaking out, Melvin Johnson believes, isn’t more thinking, but less.

Johnson, who has battled shooting slumps this season, looked confident and comfortable Thursday as he stroked 5-of-8 shots, including 4-of-7 from three, to help pull fifth-seeded VCU to a 63-57 win over 12th-seeded Fordham in the second round of the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament at the Barclays Center.

In his last two games, Johnson is 7-of-13 from three. He finished with 16 points Thursday and hit a critical trey with 2:31 remaining as VCU kept a persistent Fordham at bay.

His revival comes at a good time for VCU, which is looking to break out of a shooting funk, and needs scoring from any player not named Treveon Graham. As a whole, the Rams (23-9) didn’t find their shooting stroke Thursday. VCU shot .301 (18-of-59) from the floor, a fact which kept Fordham (10-21) knocking at its door for 39 minutes. But Johnson and Graham ultimately provided just enough baskets and VCU was able to track down enough of its misses to secure the victory.

The Black & Gold grabbed 20 offensive rebounds and turned those into an 18-12 advantage in second chance points. It wasn’t pretty, but it was enough.

The win sets up a third meeting this season with rival Richmond Friday at 2:30 p.m. at Barclays.

Johnson, a Bronx native playing in front of friends and family, is VCU’s most prolific 3-point shooter. But when shots stopped falling for him earlier this season, it got to him. The more he obsessed over missed shots, the more he missed them. He says it took a fresh perspective to help the ball start finding the bottom of the basket.

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FORDHAM POSTGAME

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JUSTIN TILLMAN BLOCKED SHOT

RANDOM NOTES: FORDHAM

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RICHMOND, Va. – It wasn’t a work of art, but it was a win. VCU turned Fordham over 18 times and held the Bronx-based Rams to 37 percent shooting on the way to a 76-60 win. It was VCU’s fourth straight victory and eighth in the last nine games. Here are some tidbits from the victory.

INJURY UPDATES
VCU junior and leading scorer left the game early in the second half with an apparent injury and did not return. He retreated to the training room for a period of time, but reappeared midway through the period and sat on VCU’s bench for the remainder of the game. He scored nine points in 15 minutes and was limping noticeably on his left leg.

Coach Shaka Smart says he believes Graham has a sprained toe, but stopped short of offering a timeline for his return.

“He’ll be getting as much treatment as possible, and I can’t tell you exactly when he’ll be back, but I’d guess it will be soon.”

Graham is averaging 15.7 points per game this season.  VCU returns to action on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Siegel Center against Richmond.

Meanwhile, senior forward Terrance Shannon (sprained knee) did not play for a third straight game, although he was in uniform.

“He’s good,” Smart said. “His knee’s not all the way back yet, but he’s making progress. He’s done some things in practice. He’s not been 100 percent full-go in practice yet, but I anticipate hopefully he’ll be back, full-go soon.”

Shannon is averaging 3.9 points and 2.8 rebounds per game this season.

TIDBITS
VCU shot .338 in the win (22-of-65). It’s the Rams lowest shooting percentage in a victory since shooting .328 (21-of-64) in a 63-57 win over St. Francis (Pa.) on Nov. 11, 2011. VCU is 4-4 when shooting less than 40 percent this season… Briante Weber grabbed four steals to move within two of tying Rolando Lamb’s school record of 257, established in 1985…The game marked VCU’s 45th straight sellout at the Siegel Center… VCU’s 17-4 start is the best of Shaka Smart’s five-year tenure and the Rams’ best since 2007… After opening the season 1-of-14 from 3-point range, Weber is 6-of-16 (38 percent) in VCU’s last five games.

VIDEO: VCU DEFEATS FORDHAM 76-60

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HIGHLIGHTS

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SHAKA SMART

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MELVIN JOHNSON, JORDAN BURGESS, BRIANTE WEBER

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FORDHAM COACH TOM PECORA

HIGH PRAISE FROM PECORA AND CO.

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Fordham Coach Tom Pecora is 0-9 as a head coach at VCU's Siegel Center.

Fordham Coach Tom Pecora is 0-9 as a head coach at VCU’s Siegel Center.

RICHMOND, Va. – Fordham Coach Tom Pecora knows VCU and the Verizon Wireless Arena well. He was the head coach at Hofstra from 2001-2010 and waged many a battle with VCU on this floor. He knows how hard it is to win here, too. After Wednesday’s 74-60 loss to VCU, Pecora is 0-9 all-time as a head coach in the building.

Following the game, he offered high praise for the program and gameday atmosphere VCU has built over the years.

I was talking to Mike Litos before the game…and I was telling him, I remember coming here in 2000 as the head coach at Hofstra after being the assistant there for seven years, and it was our first year in the CAA, and maybe 2,000 people [here] at a home game, and now you see the place rocking, and the band’s going, and the place is packed, and it’s just a great college basketball atmosphere. So, kudos to everybody here who’s part of making game night as good as it is here. I like pulling up to arenas and seeing people waiting to get in. It’s a good feeling for college basketball.

On the down side of that, as I was walking in and I said, hell, I’ve come in here with some pretty good Hofstra teams and never won, I’m coming in with a Fordham team that’s not that good yet.

Meanwhile, Fordham reserve Jared Fay was also impressed.

This season alone, Fordham has played games at Syracuse, versus St. John’s at Madison Square Garden, at Saint Louis and at UMass.

VIDEO: VCU CRUISES PAST FORDHAM

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VCU STRIDES INTO A-10 LEAD AT HALFWAY POINT

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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.

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GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER

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VCU and Butler met at the 2011 Final Four in Houston. Butler earned a 70-62 win, despite 27 points from VCU’s Jamie Skeen.

Last year, this would’ve been just another Tuesday in June at VCU Athletics HQ. Instead, the Atlantic 10 (16!) released men’s basketball home and road opponents for each school Tuesday, sending the Twitterverse into a type of frenzy normally reserved for March Madness and Kate Middleton.

In a 16-team league, VCU wasn’t going to get every team on its wish list at home. There’s only 16 games with which to see the league, eight of them on the road. How did the Rams do? In terms of Buzz Factor, pretty good.

The Rams will partner and play home and home with Richmond. That was essentially a given. After that, the only thing anybody cared about was which teams were coming to the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center, sponsored by Goody’s, McDonald’s, M&M’s and Nationwide, brought to you by Gatorade?

Here’s who will be visiting: Butler, Dayton, Fordham, George Washington, LaSalle, UMass, Richmond and Saint Joseph’s.  That’s a pretty good slate right there. Butler, Dayton, UMass and Saint Joe’s all have varying degrees of name-recognition.

This is my quickie “must-see” meter for VCU’s A-10 home dates:

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