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RICHMOND, Va. – Heading into a big week for No. 19 VCU, coach Shaka Smart warned his team not to let a 13-game winning streak and the excitement over its first national ranking since 1984-85 go to their collective heads.
Now the Rams have lost two straight.
"You can't take winning for granted," VCU senior guard Darius Theus said after La Salle withstood a 17-point burst to start the second half and beat VCU 69-61. "Maybe we got a little comfortable with our success. Now we got punched in the mouth two times. We've got to get back to the drawing board and get back to what we do."
Smart, however, doesn't think his team has been knocked off track by its struggles.
"We're one game out of first place. That's the biggest way it knocks us back," he said.
Ramon Galloway scored 31 points, 12 during an 18-4 run in the second half Saturday night, and the Explorers won two straight against top-25 teams for the first time in 60 years.
The upstart Explorers (14-5, 4-2 Atlantic 10), who edged No. 9 Butler on Wednesday night, last registered consecutive victories against ranked teams in the 1952 NIT tournament, when they beat three in a row. They are off to their best start since the 1990-91 team started the year 14-4.
Juvonte Reddic had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Rams (16-5, 4-2), who lost for the second time in three days. VCU blew a seven-point lead in the last minute and lost in overtime at Richmond on Thursday.
Treveon Graham added 13 points and 12 rebounds, but shot just 4 for 17.
The Rams appeared poised to get back on the winning track when they opened the second half with 17 consecutive points, but the experienced Explorers responded in a streaky game of shifting momentum.
Just as quick as VCU and with veteran guards, La Salle did it by attacking on offense.
Trailing 45-38, the Explorers got a driving basket from Galloway, and a 10-footer from Tyrone Garland. Galloway scored again on a driving bucket, and after Reddic made a free throw, Tyreek Duren hit a pair of free throws. Garland then scored and Galloway had a 3-pointer, a jumper and another 3-pointer.
That gave La Salle a 53-47 lead with 8 minutes left. VCU rallied to 56-55 with 2:50 remaining.
Two of the baskets came from Graham, who missed 12 of his first 13 field goal attempts, and a sellout crowd at the Siegel Center rose expecting a stirring, victorious finish.
But with its lead cut to one, Galloway hit a pair of free throws, Reddic threw a pass away and Duren drove for a layup after the Explorers burned plenty of time off the clock, restoring the lead to 60-55.
The Rams never got closer than four again.
VCU erased a 34-25 halftime deficit with a burst to start the second half. The Rams forced three early turnovers and scored the first 17 points to take a 42-34 lead, whipping the crowd in a frenzy.
But just as quickly, the Explorers came back, eventually handing the Rams just their 29th loss against 173 victories in the 13-year history of the Siegel Center.
The first half was all runs, started by VCU when it scored 11 of 13 points to lead 11-8.
Duren then scored seven in a 9-0 run for the Explorers, and Reddic then scored the first eight for VCU in a 12-2 burst that gave the Rams a 23-19 lead with 8 minutes left in the half.
The Explorers dominated the rest of the way, taking a 34-25 lead into halftime after outscoring VCU 15-2 as Galloway hit two 3-pointers, a long 2-pointer and La Salle got three layups in a row.
For the Rams, Reddic and Troy Daniels were 8 for 11 from the field, and the rest of the team was 2 for 22. The Rams finished shooting 38.3 percent (23 of 60), the Explorers 47.1 percent (25 of 51).
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