Wednesday night at the Ted Constant Convocation Center was a theater of dreams for the Black & Gold. A delightful 20-minute display of productive offense, ball control and simply punching the Monarchs in the mouth. Then the second half happened.
The Rams went from conquerors into the restrained as Old Dominion took a 12 point halftime deficit and outscored VCU 42-20 in the 2nd half. Old Dominion rallied through adversity to get their first win over VCU in Norfolk in nearly 4 years. Even with a stinging 52-62 defeat that should have been a win, VCU continues to learn this lesson: College Basketball is a 40-minute game.
“We still got a long way to go. This is how we’ve been playing all year long. Really good 20 minutes, a tough other 20 minutes. … We got to improve, we got to improve.” –VCU Head Coach Mike Rhoades
Maturing Through Adversity
There is nothing like the real thing. No matter how many reps put up, plays practiced or scrimmages simulated. Playing the game is the true subject of the matter when learning how to be a better basketball player.
VCU currently is in a classroom with the whole world watching so to speak. The Rams are working on their craft which sometimes leads to a performance worthy of an A+ and some plays that drives the professor crazy. Unfortunately, the 2nd half at Old Dominion was not the ideal time to have an offensive goose egg shooting 27.3% from the field and 0-for-9 from three.
Marcus Evans did what he could playing the entire half and leading VCU with 7 points and only one turnover. Issac Vann hit a snag with only 4 points. De’Riante Jenkins went 0-for-4 from the field. Marcus Santos-Silva kept gunning for rebounds but was being outmanned by 3-4 Monarchs in the paint.
No need for sad face emojis or tweets saying My Fault. Simply Put: Old Dominion outplayed VCU. As bitter as that is to read, that was the reality on Wednesday night. That horrendous stench of hatred for losing had some extra stank on it after the final buzzer at the Ted. Once again adversity is showered upon VCU. Now, what are the Rams going to do?
The Season Just Got Started
One of the pondering questions on my mind before the season began was surrounding VCU’s offense. Last season, Justin Tillman and Jonathan Williams carried a massive workload with the Fro having a breakout scoring performance. With that gone who or whom will take the leading helm towards the basket this season?
Coach Rhoades is accurate that he has an army capable of scoring. Issac Vann at first glance appeared to be that guy that wanted to be THE guy. Vann is nearly doing everything from shooting, passing, rebounding, stealing and blocking. Evans healing up rapidly has given what VCU needed at the point guard position in a leader that can drive the ball home.
As a team, VCU is productive with three things holding the Rams from leveling up: rebounding, shot selection and turnovers. Against the Monarchs, VCU was outrebounded 43-35 with 15 of those ODU rebounds coming on the offensive side. VCU had their 7th consecutive game in double-digit turnovers with 14. And don’t get me started on some of the shots that were just…rushed?
In order to get better, you must learn by doing. The team rebounding aspect that was productive and upbeat with multiple Rams gunning for that ball in the air must return. Moving the ball and creating better shot attempts instead of rushing to the basket for highly contested chances against the odds. An urgency to see VCU shine for a full shift looms and some are getting impatient waiting for that day.
The Upside of 5-2
Upside: VCU has a positive record. Imagine if that record was reversed; actually, don’t do that. Anywho, the Rams are just going through an early struggle. What’s going for them is that VCU has more wins than losses. And at the end of the day, that is what matters.
Would it be great to completely destroy the opposition by 30 points with a high shooting percentage from the field and three-point spot? Absolutely. But in order for that to happen, VCU must stay together and committed to getting better. Yes losing to your rival in Old Dominion is not ideal however this result could be a wake-up call in a sense.
To be a successful team, all of the pieces must be in working order. From the rebounding blueprint to executing shots and mustering up pressure on defense; everything has to be running at a high level. A trend during the season for VCU is that if one thing…even the little things…goes in disarray, the whole machine breaks down in a panic.
Which leads to frustrating moments such as grinding for a bucket after the opponent gets an 8-0 run. Or the defense not doing enough to make shots difficult. Some games the plan will be successfully performed, others the plan will be shredded and adjustments become dire.
Pressure can break even the greatest of players. VCU has a roster full of talented young players with an experienced coaching staff. Stick together, figure out what does and doesn’t work, ball out.
One More Before The Road
Iona (2-4) comes down to the Siegel Center on Saturday night before two of VCU’s biggest road games on their non-conference slate. First, the Rams see an old friend in Shaka Smart at Texas then head to Charlottesville for an in-state duel at UVA.
Ideally, VCU should defeat the Gaels but the game of college basketball is played on the court. That anger and disappointment from the trip to Norfolk can be the fuel needed for VCU to lace up their kicks and rebound against Iona. Then we wait to see what goes down in Texas and Virginia.
Handling business at the Siegel Center is the priority. Putting in a 40-minute performance is the short-term goal. Doing that act consistently over this young season is the long-term goal VCU is striving to accomplish. VCU needs to drive forward and stop stalling over what happened.
“We got to improve, We got to improve.”
That quote is on repeat in the back of VCU’s mind. If they keep it together, the Rams will improve. There is no quick fix to improve with every bounce of that basketball. The chase to those 40 minutes is en route.
We will be waiting.
VCU Men’s Basketball takes on Iona inside the Siegel Center on Saturday, December 1st. Gametime is set for a 7 PM tip-off on MASN and ESPN+.