Billikens battle 16th-ranked Rams in A-10 action

Jan 23, 2015 - 3:22 PM St. Louis, MO ( - The 16th-ranked Rams of Virginia Commonwealth take aim at their 11th consecutive win when they visit the Saint Louis Billikens for an Atlantic 10 Conference clash on Friday night.

VCU in enjoying a resurgence of sorts, as the team began the season on a roll, but then stumbled a bit in losing three of five games between Nov. 24 and Dec. 6. Granted two of those setbacks came against teams that have spent time in the top-5 this season (Villanova, Virginia), but the team has responded to go on a lengthy winning streak, which includes victories in each of its first five conference bouts. The most recent win for the Rams took place last Saturday at Duquesne, 70-64. VCU has won five straight road games.

Saint Louis hasn't had nearly the success VCU has this season, as the team comes into this contest with a 9-9 record, which includes a dismal 1-4 league ledger. The Billikens, who have lost their last five bouts against ranked foes, dropped a 61-45 decision at Dayton last Saturday to fall to 1-4 in true road games, and it marked their fifth defeat in the last six games overall.

The series between these two teams is tied at 3-3. Saint Louis had won three in a row before VCU beat the Billikens in the last outing, 67-56, on the Rams' home court.

Only one starter scored in double figures for VCU last weekend at Duquesne, as Melvin Johnson nailed four 3-pointers on his way to 14 points. Jequan Lewis led the Rams with 16 points in 29 minutes off the bench, while Doug Brooks chipped in 10 points in a reserve role as well. VCU hit twice as many long- range buckets as did the Dukes (12-6), and it took full advantage of 16 turnovers by the home team. Duquesne outshot VCU from the field (.431 to .390), and it won the battle on the boards (44-28) as well.

Treveon Graham is the Rams top scorer on the season, as he nets 17.1 ppg thanks in large part to his stellar 45.6 percent shooting effort from beyond the arc. Johnson is netting 13.9 ppg as the only other player currently averaging double digits for VCU, which generates 75.7 ppg while permitting 66.2 ppg. During the team's current win streak, five teams have been held below 60 points. The Rams are in the negative when it comes to rebounding margin (-1.9), but they are quite good at causing the opposition to give up possessions, doing so an average of 17.8 times per game to wind up with a +7.2 turnover differential.

Poor shooting proved to be the Billikens' downfall in their recent loss to Dayton, as they connected on only 37 percent of their field goal attempts, which included a 6-of-17 performance from 3-point range. They also had a rough night at the free-throw line in converting only 5-of-15 tries, while coming up short in the rebounding battle (36-31) and in committing 15 turnovers. Ash Yacoubou led Saint Louis with 12 points, while Mike Crawford pitched in 10 in 23 minutes of action off the bench. In all, 14 players received playing time for the Billikens, and the starters not named Yacoubou combined for only 15 points.

Milik Yarbrough and Yacoubou are the only two guys averaging double digits for the Billikens at the moment, but their 10.3 and 10.0 ppg, respectively, aren't going to cause many defenders tense moments when trying to figure out how to stop them. As result, SLU has an anemic scoring average of 61.0 ppg, while the team's defensive effort results in foes netting just 64.9 ppg. The Billikens routinely wind up on the short end when it comes to rebounding (-4.3), but they are on the plus side of the ledger with regard to turnovers (+0.9).

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