RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Treveon Graham scored 16 points and No. 25 VCU used a 23-5 run spanning halftime to take command and beat Saint Louis 74-54 Tuesday night.
Graham seemed to show no signs of the high left ankle sprain that sidelined him for two losses, and with him back on the floor, the Rams (20-6, 10-3 Atlantic 10) cranked back up their defensive pressure against the young Billikens. VCU, which had backed off some on its 94 feet of pressure with Graham injured, forced 14 turnovers and turned them into 19 points.
Saint Louis (10-16, 2-11) lost its third straight to a team tied for the Atlantic 10 lead. The Rams, Dayton, Rhode Island and Massachusetts all started the night tied at the top with 9-3 league records, but VCU was the only one in action.
Freshman Milik Yarbrough scored 17 to lead Saint Louis. Freshman Michael Gilmore had 10 for the Rams.
VCU ended the first half on a 20-5 run, giving the Rams a 34-22 lead at the intermission. The Rams then started the second half by forcing two Billikens turnovers before Melvin Johnson made a 3-pointer.
The absence of Graham, the preseason player of the year in the conference, was especially hard on VCU because to Rams also lost Brinate Weber, their defensive leader and only other senior, to a knee injury on Jan. 31. Graham was playing on a tender ankle when his driving basket at the buzzer gave the Rams a 63-61 victory at Saint Louis on Jan. 23, and he played in three more games before re-injuring the ankle.
VCU lost on a basket at the buzzer at Saint Bonaventure and then in double-overtime at home against La Salle without him, then beat George Washington in a key conference game in Washington on Saturday.
The Rams quickly took control against the Billikens, rallying from a 17-14 deficit by holding Saint Louis scoreless for more than 7 1/2 minutes. The Rams managed only 12 in the stretch, but with Yarbrough providing the Billikens with their only scoring threat, it was more than enough.
Graham had 10 points, including VCU’s first eight, at halftime, and six other Rams scored.
Yarbrough led the Billikens with 11 at the break.
Saint Louis: The Billikens’ last victory against a ranked team came when they beat VCU, then ranked No. 25 in the 2013 Atlantic 10 championship game. Saint Louis has lost seven in a row against ranked teams since.
VCU: Seldom-used walk-on Torey Burston made his first 3-pointer in the closing minutes, drawing wild applause.
Saint Louis: Hosts La Salle on Sunday.
VCU: Hosts Massachusetts on Saturday.
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