ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Melvin Johnson scored 20 of his 23 points in the decisive first half, Treveon Graham had 15 points and 14 rebounds, and No. 15 Virginia Commonwealth defeated Tennessee 85-69 Friday night in the Veterans Classic.
Johnson went 9 for 17 from the floor, hit five 3-pointers and had three assists to help the Rams win their 10th straight season opener.
After falling behind 48-30 at halftime and 55-35 with 16:44 remaining, Tennessee closed to 67-59 but could not complete the comeback.
The inaugural Veterans Classic concluded with No. 18 Michigan State facing Navy.
VCU played most of the game without starting point guard JeQuan Lewis, who left with 8:19 remaining in the first half after slamming his head on the court. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Lewis took a spill dueling for a rebound with 6-10, 280-pound forward Dominic Woodson.
Josh Richardson and Detrick Mostella each scored 17 for Tennessee, playing its first game under coach Donnie Tyndall. The Volunteers have nine newcomers and only four scholarship players back from last season.
Tennessee didn’t have the quickness or depth to hang with VCU, which returns six of its top eight scorers from a year ago and is seeking a fifth straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
The Volunteers were called for 34 fouls, and the Rams took advantage by going 24 for 40 at the line.
In the first half, Johnson did just about everything for VCU. In addition to scoring 20 of his team’s first 36 points, the 6-foot-3 junior called the defensive plays, took charge of huddles at the foul line and had two of Rams’ eight steals.
The score was tied at 14 before Johnson buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key, scored off a steal and hit a 3 from the corner for a 22-14 lead.
Johnson had 20 of the Rams’ first 36 points. Even though he played only 13 minutes in the first half, he still had time to take 10 shots (sinking eight), get two steals and pick up an assist.
Tennessee: Before the game, the Vols wore warmup shirts with “McKAMEY” on the back and “I WILL” on the front. It was a salute to Knoxville native and former Navy football player Will McKamey, who died on March 25 after collapsing on the practice field.
VCU: Under coach Shaka Smart, the Rams have led the country in steals in each of the last three years. In this one, they had 10 steals by six different players.
Tennessee hosts Texas Southern on Thursday.
VCU faces Toledo at home on Tuesday.
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