Bronx Native Melvin Johnson Leads VCU to Victory in A-10 Quarter-Finals

Howard Goldin

The second quarter-final game of the Atlantic-10 Championship at Barclays Center was the third meeting this season between inter-city rivals in Richmond, Virginia, the VCU Rams (24-9) and the Richmond Spiders (19-13). The Rams won 11 of the latest 15 games between the two, but lost twice to Richmond this year. The two teams also clashed in the 2014 A-10 quarter-finals, which was won by VCU, 71-53.

As was true in the previous day’s contest with the Fordham Rams, VCU was the favorite of the overwhelming majority of the crowd. Again VCU responded to the crowd’s wishes by winning its 8th game of the last 11 at Barclays in the past two seasons.

The Spiders took an early advantage with a 16-9 start at 12:01. The lead was overturned in a little more than three minutes as VCU went on a 10-2 run. The first eight of those 10 points were netted by Bronx natives, Terry Larrier and Melvin Johnson. Both contributed mightily throughout the first half.

The two scored the final 12 points for VCU in the half to give the Rams a 37-36 lead. Johnson netted 5 of 6 from three point range to accumulate a game high 15 points in the half. The freshman Larrier netted three of three from the charity stripe to conclude the scoring in the half. He scored five and grabbed five boards during the first period.

As in the first half, the Spiders opened with a 21-3 run to take a 48-40 advantage at 13:48. The Rams did not lose hope as an 8-2 cut the deficit to a deuce, 50-48,, at 9:46.

Coach Shaka Smart of VCU explained the reasons for his team’s comeback, “I think we were able to get a little more aggressive on the offensive end and get into the paint. We changed our scheme a little bit. Went to a more dribble drive type offensive. And we were able to get the ball in the basket a little better.”

The Rams took back the lead they relinquished in the early minutes of the second half by Johnson feeding Doug Brooks for a three with 1:37 left in the contest.

Johnson was the major contributor to the win as he tied his season high of 23 points and made three important steals.

His coach said of him after the game, “I think he’s playing with a clear head…He averaged 12 points a game for us and he’s had some games; he’s really been a terrific player. But he hasn’t been as consistent as he wants to be.” Coach Smart alluded to some off-the court problems that “have contributed to cloud his head up at times over the course of the past couple months. Despite those difficulties, Smart stated, “He’s [Johnson] definitely helping his team.”

The Rams, due to their 70-67 win advanced to the semi-finals against the #1 seed, the Davidson Wildcats, who won a buzzer beater over LaSalle on Friday.


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