PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) VCU coach Will Wade got the response he wanted to a loss.
Jonathan Williams scored a career-high 22 points and hit the go-ahead layup with 3:59 left to help the Rams hold off St. John’s 75-69 on Thursday night in Battle 4 Atlantis consolation bracket.
JeQuan Lewis added 15 points for the Rams (4-1), who had lost 71-63 to No. 20 Baylor in Wednesday’s tournament opener. VCU led by eight late in the first half and was tied with about 8 minutes left in that one.
”We’d been preparing for that for a while – we put a ton into that game,” Wade said. ”It was a little bit of a gut-punch when we had the lead in the second half and couldn’t close it out. So I’m really proud of the way our guys responded.”
Williams, a junior from Richmond, Virginia, came into the tournament averaging 7.3 points but hit 8 of 15 shots and 6 of 7 free throws to go with six assists with one turnover in 34 minutes.
”We all came together as a team and was like, `The most energized team is going to win,”’ Williams said.
Williams’ drive gave VCU a 67-65 lead, then Lewis had a driving score of his own. Lewis and Mo Alie-Cox went 4 for 4 at the foul line in the last 13 seconds to help seal the win on a night when both teams blew double-digit leads – St. John’s by 13 in the first half, VCU by 11 with about 14 minutes left.
Shamorie Ponds scored 18 points to lead the Red Storm (2-3), who made their first eight shots in the game but shot just 28 percent (8 of 29) after halftime. The Red Storm had lost to No. 24 Michigan State in its Atlantis opener after leading early in the second half of that one.
”I think we played a good game but didn’t finish it off,” Red Storm coach Chris Mullin said. ”We probably played 25-30 good minutes last game, probably about 30 tonight. We’ve got to get it to 40 minutes.”
VCU: The Rams can at least feel good that they came up with the key plays in the final 4 minutes of a tie game, a good sign for a team that couldn’t quite figure out how to stay in front of No. 20 Baylor in its Atlantis opener Wednesday.
St. John’s: Other than that game-opening burst, the Red Storm struggled with their shooting again. They shot just 31 percent against No. 24 Michigan State then followed that by finishing at 41 percent Thursday.
”We’ve basically played our fifth game together, so some of that takes time,” Mullin said. ”We’ve just got to keep working at it and break through it. … We’ve got to keep working and understand we are getting better, we’re getting closer.”
VCU: Alie-Cox scored 15 points… VCU shot 42 percent and had just nine turnovers. … The Rams scored 14 points off turnovers. … Justin Tillman had 13 rebounds.
St. John’s: Redshirt freshman guard Marcus LoVett came in averaging 23.3 points but finished with 10 on 4-for-13 shooting. … Bashir Ahmed scored 13 points. … St. John’s finished with a 40-36 rebounding advantage. … Kassoum Yakwe had six blocked shots.
VCU: The Rams will play LSU, who beat Old Dominion later Thursday, in Friday’s fifth-place game.
St. John’s: The Red Storm will face ODU in Friday’s seventh-place game.
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