RICHMOND — If No. 10 Saint Louis needed any reminder of the identity of Virginia Commonwealth, all it had to do was scan the sellout crowd at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. With nearly all 7,741 fans adorned in gold T-shirts reading “Havoc,” there was little doubt about the Rams’ intent against the first-place team in the Atlantic 10.
And havoc is what Virginia Commonwealth wrought on Saturday, using its formidable pressure defense to force 17 turnovers and hold senior-laden Saint Louis to its season low in points in a 67-56 victory.
Junior guard Treveon Graham scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds. And junior guard Briante Weber contributed 13 points and four steals as Virginia Commonwealth handed Saint Louis its second straight loss and first this season on the road.
The Billikens (25-4, 12-2) still can clinch their second straight A-10 regular-season title with a win Wednesday over Dayton or Sunday at Massachusetts. The victory, however, was no less satisfying for Virginia Commonwealth (22-7, 10-4), which avenged three losses the last two years to Saint Louis, including a 62-56 defeat last March in the A-10 title game.
The difference on Saturday, according to VCU coach Shaka Smart, was the site.
“It’s the first time we played them here,” Smart said. “Let’s get that straight.”
There was little doubt about the effect of the crowd. Some VCU students camped out Thursday and Friday night to secure their seats. When they arrived on Saturday, they found gold T-shirts draped on their seats.
“We had a mind-set of payback from last year when they beat us in the championship game,” Weber said. “They had yet to come to VCU, so we gave them an impression what VCU’s like.”
In the opening minutes, Saint Louis appeared rattled by the raucous atmosphere. After point guard Jordair Jett scored on driving layups on the Billikens’ first two possessions, Saint Louis committed turnovers on its next three trips, with one of the errors paving the way for a fast-break dunk by Graham, which gave the Rams the lead for good.
Afterward when a young reporter, wearing a havoc T-shirt, mistakenly referred to the crowd of “77,000” during a long-winded question, Saint Louis coach Jim Crews winced. He’d clearly seen enough havoc in his first trip to Richmond as the Billikens’ head coach.
“First of all, they didn’t have 77,000 fans, so your observation of the day, I’m kind of questioning that,” Crews said. “I don’t think their press bothered us as much. I think their half-court defense bothered us more than their full-court defense.”
Every time the Billikens had a chance to get close on Saturday, they were thwarted by the defense of the Rams. Their last opportunity came with less than two minutes left when they had the ball and trailed by eight points.
But Weber stripped the ball from Jett in mid-dribble and fed streaking guard Melvin Johnson for a layup. After another Saint Louis turnover, Graham passed to forward Juvonte Reddic for a dunk and a 64-52 lead with 1:05 left.
The two baskets showed the opportunism of Virginia Commonwealth, which totaled 23 points off turnovers, while Saint Louis — the top defensive team in the A-10 — scored just eight points off the six turnovers it forced.
“It was tough to get traction,” Crews said of his team’s ineffective offense.
After making 4-of-6 3-point shots in the first half, Saint Louis missed its final seven attempts from beyond the arc. Jett scored a game-high 18 points but got little help, especially from his frontcourt mates.
The Billikens’ top scorer, forward Dwayne Evans, matched his season low with four points on 2-of-11 shooting. Forward Rob Loe, one of five seniors in the starting lineup, had a career-high six turnovers, which matched his point total.
“He had the ball sometimes in some pretty good positions,” Crews said of Loe. “One of those days I guess. I don’t know.”
One of the Rams who gave the Billikens pause inside was 6-6, 250-pound freshman Mo Alie-Cox, who had six points and blocked five shots. Cox helped Virginia Commonwealth to its biggest lead of the game, 38-23, when he hit a layup, blocked a shot by Jett, and followed with
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