Richmond, VA (SportsNetwork.com) - The 14th-ranked Virginia Commonwealth Rams take aim at a third straight win to open the 2013-14 campaign, as they play host to the Winthrop Eagles on Saturday evening.
Shaka Smart's Rams have already served notice that they are once again going to be one of the top mid-major programs in the nation. VCU has opened the year with back-to-back victories, showing offensive proficiency in a rout of Illinois State (96-58) and then defensive tenacity in a hard-fought road win over nationally-ranked Virginia (59-56).
Winthrop comes into this contest without a blemish on its record as well. The Eagles have opened with a pair of wins at home, topping Roanoke College (93-74) and USC Upstate (82-74). It is the first time the team has opened a year with two straight wins since the 2009-10 season and the most points scored in its first two games since 1999-2000. Pat Kelsey's squad is looking to improve on last year's 14-17 overall record and compete for the Big South Conference crown this time around.
This is just the third meeting between these two teams. VCU has won both prior matchups, including a 90-54 lopsided affair a year ago.
Offense hasn't been a problem for the Eagles this season, as the team has eclipsed 80 points in back-to-back games for the first time since 2007. It has been a balanced attack thus far, with five players making significant contributions. Joab Jerome leads the way at 16.0 ppg, followed closely by Andre Smith (15.5 ppg) and Keon Johnson (14.0 ppg). Christian Farmer (12.0 ppg) and Tevin Prescott (10.5 ppg) have been strong off the bench.
Smith led the charge in Winthrop's last win over USC Upstate, hitting four 3- pointers en route to 21 points. Jerome wasn't far behind with 19 points, while Prescott provided 10 in 18 minutes off the bench.
Treveon Graham's late game heroics lifted the Rams to a big win in Charlottesville, as his 3-pointer with just 1.4 seconds left proved to be the difference for VCU. The Rams beat the Cavaliers at their own game, holding the home team under 40 percent shooting, while forcing 19 turnovers. It wasn't a surprise that Smart looked to Graham at the end of the game, as he was on point all game long, finishing with a game-high 22 points, on 8-of-15 shooting. Juvonte Reddic finished second on the team in scoring at nine points, while Rob Brandenberg chipped in with seven.
It was a completely different scenario in the win over Illinois State, as VCU connected on a healthy 55.4 percent from the floor, as five Rams notched double figures. Graham and Terrance Shannon led the way with 14 points, followed by Reddic (13 pts), Brandenberg (12 pts) and Melvin Johnson (11 pts).