Johnson’s 13 lead VCU past Fordham, 76-60

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) Coming off a road trip that produced a victory at Dayton and a come-from-behind, double-overtime win against La Salle, Virginia Commonwealth might have returned home a little cocky.

The Rams, after all, were playing Fordham, a team that had lost 7 of 8.

”We were flat in just the approach,” Briante Weber said. ”It was tough to get up for a game like this, but at the same time, once the ball goes in, it’s not hard to get up after that.”

Baskets for the Rams set up their full-court defensive pressure, and once they get that going, it usually causes turnovers, fast-break baskets and the havoc that VCU feeds on in the moment.

Coach Shaka Smart, whose team plays arch-rival Richmond on Saturday, said it would be human nature to come out flat, but added that that doesn’t make it any more acceptable.

”The best teams in any sport, they find a way to fight human nature,” he said after VCU took command by halftime and beat Fordham 76-60. ”They find a way to fight complacency.”

Melvin Johnson scored 13 points, JeQuan Lewis scored 11 and Juvonte Reddic had 10 points and 10 rebounds as the homestanding Rams won their 15th in a row at the sold-out Siegel Center.

VCU (17-4, 5-1 Atlantic 10) is off to its best start in five years under Smart and its best overall start since the 2006-07 team won 19 of its first 22. That team beat Duke in the NCAA tournament.

Mandell Thomas scored 25 points to lead Fordham (8-12, 1-6), which lost for the eighth time in nine games. The visiting Rams committed 18 turnovers, leading to 21 points for VCU.

”I’m tired of saying we’re young. I’m tired of saying we’re building this thing,” Fordham coach Tom Pecora said, ”but we’re young and we’re building this thing, and that’s just where we are.”

His top scorers both had off nights as Jon Severe, who leads the A-10 with a 20.2 average, managed just nine points, and Branden Frazier, who averages 17.8, finished with only four.

The Rams took control early, using an 18-4 run to take a 22-8 lead. Jordan Burgess had six points and Lewis five in the run, and Fordham went 6:42 without a field goal after their first basket.

Fordham closed to within 30-23 late in the half, but two 3-pointers by Rob Brandenberg, the last a heave to beat the halftime buzzer, fueled a 10-0 run that gave VCU a 40-23 lead.

Fordham missed its first 13 3-point shots and finished the first half 2 for 16 from deep. For the game, the visiting Rams were 7 for 28 from 3-point range, with Thomas hitting 5 of 10 and the rest of the team making 2 of 18.

The visitors opened the second half on a 9-4 run to get within 44-32. VCU quickly rebuilt the margin to 16, but Fordham twice closed to within 12 again before Brandenberg made a three-point play and Reddic followed a basket by Severe for Fordham with a stick-back. Johnson then made a fast-break 3-pointer.

That boosted VCU’s lead back to 64-46 with 6:14, and by the time Fordham scored again, the Rams’ lead had grown to 70-48 and Smart was pulling starters to the delight of the crowd.

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