RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Riding a three-game losing streak for the first time in his career as a head coach, VCU’s Shaka Smart showed his team some home movies.
They were movies, Mo Alie-Cox said, of how the Rams have played when they have played their best.
“That really put a reminder in our heads of how we should play, an attacking mindset, and that’s what we tried to come out here and do today,” Alie-Cox said after the Rams ended their slide with a 71-60 victory against George Mason on Saturday night.
Treveon Graham, honored along with fellow seniors Jarred Guest and Briante Weber before the game, scored 23 points in his final game at the Siegel Center, getting 17 in the first half as the Rams bolted to a 33-19 lead. The rest came in the final minutes, holding off a rally by the Patriots.
“I just came out and attacked,” Graham said. “The players told me to go out and play my game and that’s what I did, came out and attacked from the git-go,” he said, adding that the victory was especially critical to put a better taste in the players’ mouths before heading to the conference tournament.
“It put us in position to go up to Brooklyn with an amount of confidence that we need to be able to get a couple games in a row and win a championship,” Graham said of the Rams (22-9, 12-6 Atlantic 10), who began the season as unanimous favorites in the Atlantic 10, but have been hampered by injuries.
Shevon Thompson had 16 points and 15 rebounds and Isaiah Jackson scored 16 for George Mason (9-21, 4-14). The Patriots turned the ball over 24 times against VCU’s pressure, leading to 24 points for the Rams. It was the fifth loss in six games for the Patriots.
The Rams still had to await the final score of the Saint Louis at Richmond game to learn their seeding for the conference tournament. A victory by Richmond would assure the surging Spiders, who beat VCU twice this season, the No. 4 seed.
George Mason opened the second half with an 18-8 run to close a 14-point halftime deficit to 41-37 with just over 13 minutes remaining. They got within 47-44 on a three-point play by Thompson, but Melvin Johnson hit his third 3-pointer of the game and Alie-Cox followed with a put-back dunk for the Rams.
The Patriots didn’t get closer than six again.
“We overcame a lot of the turnovers and gave ourselves a chance, and then the offensive rebounding thing became a problem,” Patriots coach Paul Hewitt said, noting the Rams’ 13 offensive rebounds, five by Graham. “He’s a big-time player, and he’s had an obviously great career here.”
JeQuan Lewis added 13 points and Alie-Cox 11 for VCU.
The Rams led 9-1 after just 3:15 with Graham scoring seven of the points, but when VCU went cold, making just 2 of 15 shots in one stretch, the Patriots closed to within 17-14 with 5:31 remaining.
That’s when Graham hit his second 3-pointer, sparking a 13-0 run that ended with his third 3.
It was 33-19 at halftime after Graham fed Melvin Johnson for a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
George Mason: The loss dropped Paul Hewitt’s record to 66-66 in four seasons at George Mason. … The Patriots averaged 21 turnovers in two losses to VCU, and lost by almost identical scores - 72-60 at home, and 71-60 on the road.
VCU: Graham had 17 of VCU’s 33 first-half points, but missed his first six shots after halftime. His first points of the second half came on a pair of free throws with 3:22 to play, leaving him one point shy of 1,800 for his career. He got there on another FT with 2:33 left.
Guest had his best game of the season with eight points on 4 of 7 shooting, four rebounds and a steal.
“When he plays that way, he gives us an added element we don’t have otherwise,” Smart said. “If we can bottle that up and take it up to Brooklyn with us, and wherever we go from there, that will really help us.”
George Mason will play in the A-10 tournament.
VCU will play as either the fourth of fifth seed in the A-10 tournament.
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