Playing as a ranked team for the first time in 28 seasons, Virginia Commonwealth did not have an easy time remaining undefeated in the Atlantic 10.
The No. 22 Rams hope things are less stressful as they try for a 13th consecutive victory Saturday night in Pittsburgh against Duquesne, which is looking to snap a five-game skid.In its first season in the conference, VCU (15-3, 3-0) is one of four undefeated teams in A-10 play. That includes fellow newcomer and 13th-ranked Butler, which shares the nation's second-longest winning streak with the Rams at 12 games."(VCU) came in the league to win the league," said Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli, whose team was the preseason conference favorite. "Their style is relentless."Martelli's squad gave the Rams all they could handle before the hosts pulled out a 92-86 overtime home victory Thursday. VCU ranks among the national leaders in 3-point makes (153) and attempts (438), but is shooting 34.9 percent from beyond the arc on the season and 22.9 (22 of 96) in the last four contests.Senior Troy Daniels, who shoots a team-best 42.0 percent from 3, missed eight of nine while the Rams went 7 of 32 from long distance Thursday. However, Treveon Graham had 25 points, Darius Theus had a career-high 22 with 10 assists and Juvonte Reddic added 15 with 17 boards to help the Rams prevail in their first game as a ranked team since 1984-85.Theus, who averages 6.9 points, hit a layup to force overtime as the Rams rallied from four down with 15 seconds to play. VCU held the Hawks to six points in the extra period to secure the longest winning streak in Shaka Smart's four seasons as coach, and third-longest in school history."We're getting a heck of an introduction to the Atlantic 10," said Smart, whose team has not lost since dropping consecutive games to Duke and Missouri on Nov. 23-24 at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.Though Duquesne (7-10, 0-3) looks to avoid its first six-game skid since 2006-07, the Rams likely won't take anything for granted while trying for a sixth consecutive road victory. A winner in 10 of 11 road contests, VCU shot 52.0 percent in a 72-65 victory over St. Bonaventure last Saturday in its first A-10 contest away from home.Graham is averaging 18.3 points and shooting 55.8 percent, including 6 of 12 from beyond the arc, in four road contests this season.Duquesne allows 73.7 points per game to rank near the bottom of the league and is last in opponents' 3-point percentage (38.8). The Dukes had their five-game home winning streak snapped with a 74-66 loss to Saint Joseph's last Saturday and followed with a 79-66 defeat at Massachusetts on Thursday.Leading scorer Sean Johnson (14.2 ppg) scored a career-high 29 against the Minutemen as Duquesne trimmed a 17-point deficit to three but would get no closer.The Dukes figure to have trouble Saturday if they can't take care of the ball, which few teams do against VCU. The Rams' plus-9.0 turnover differential is the nation's best, while Duquesne's minus-2.6 margin is among the worst.