37 Minutes, 36 Points, 3 Rebounds, 3 Assists, 2 Steals.
And it wasn’t enough.
Melvin Johnson channeled his childhood basketball hero of Earvin “Magic” Johnson with a career night in a losing effort against the Florida State Seminoles. A magical 2nd half for the senior as Melvin was in a trance from downtown knocking 8 three pointers to the delight of Ram Fans inside the Philips Arena. Trailing by 11 points as the 2nd half got underway, Johnson did everything he could racking up 23 points in the half to finish with a career-high 36 points only for VCU to come up short against FSU 76-71.
A tremendous performance had VCU believing that the Rams could pull this off. Coming into the contest, the Rams were the underdogs going up against the Seminoles. After watching the first 20 minutes, VCU just could not handle the length of Florida State. Passes that normally would hit the target were stolen with ease and the Rams were outsprinted on the fast break as FSU punished them with dunk after dunk. Florida State forced a season high 20 turnovers for the Black & Gold.
The Rams got punched in the mouth repeatedly and yet they kept on swinging. Florida State used their height and length perfectly and smothered VCU. Mo Alie-Cox and Korey Billbury were able to get a few body blows with good performances inside the paint versus the Seminoles. Melvin Johnson landed back to back haymakers from three point range and had FSU stumbling near the end of the fight.
And it wasn’t enough.
With seconds left, a drained Melvin Johnson spun around and released one last three pointer only for the prayer go unanswered. After all of the hard work put in by #32, VCU still managed to lose a close decision in Atlanta. 37 minutes played and 36 points scored had Melvin Johnson feeling like MJ but had no ring to show for it in victory.
VCU had MJ on their side but even the best need help in order to get the win. Alie-Cox and Billbury mustered what they could against the Seminoles while everyone else on the VCU bench was nearly nonexistent. Seven turnovers by JeQuan Lewis spoke louder than his six points. Jordan Burgess struggled shooting the ball making only one shot out of six attempts. In a game of 5 v 5 college basketball even the best of the best are against incredible odds playing in a 3 v 5 scenario.
Speaking of the VCU bench, they were outscored by Florida State’s bench 24-4. Michael Gilmore collected seven rebounds in the trenches and put up 2 points. Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed had a cold game against the Seminoles with only 2 points and no rebounds. Doug Brooks, Torey Burston and Justin Tillman checked in and checked back out with 0 points from each player. With the starters already winded and no bench support on deck, VCU knew that they would be in for a long afternoon.
Let’s face it: VCU were supposed to lose this game. Florida State ripped up VCU’s zone defense into pieces with great passing all around the court and finished with a bucket wherever they wanted to. Man to man defense couldn’t hold down the lengthy Seminoles for long and they won the battle of the boards 39-33 over the Rams. The only category that VCU lead Florida State in was turnovers; that is not the category you want to have the most in after the final buzzer.
So is it time for VCU to hit the panic button? Overall the Rams sit at 5-3. A perfect 4-0 at the Siegel Center and 1-0 on the road after playing some ugly basketball at Middle Tennessee State. A win is win a though. Neutral sites have not been kind as the Rams are winless in their last three trips against Duke, Wisconsin and now Florida State. If you were expecting VCU to be at around 7-1 or 8-0 at this point then the glass surrounding the panic button may already have been broken. Realistically the Rams are still on course with 5 games left on their non-conference schedule.
One concern about VCU is not one Ram can lead this team to the finish line scoring wise. Whether it’s Melvin Johnson sticking his tongue out during a career high scoring performance or Justin Tillman racking up another double-double, if the team doesn’t produce then the victory is already gift wrapped for the opponent. If this was an individual game, Melvin without a doubt would have won the game hands down. But this is a team sport and as a team VCU lost it in Atlanta.
A new growing concern for the Rams is Justin Tillman. After recording 14 rebounds against American University, Tillman has only grabbed seven rebounds combined in the last three games. His scoring tally has diminished significantly as well since the American game putting up 13 vs Old Dominion, 4 at MTSU and only 2 against Florida State. At first this was just seen as a cold game however it has now transformed into a three game cold streak. With Georgia Tech coming up in about a week can Tillman turn it around against the Yellow Jackets on the road?
During this week before heading back to Georgia to take on Georgia Tech, Coach Wade will have to take a good look at the state of VCU. Moving the ball and turnovers will be near the top of his list alongside who does he have that can produce offensively alongside Melvin Johnson. Billbury is making stride offensively and Lewis may be struggling with handling the ball but he is taking more shots. Mo is still quietly playing well on the boards and on the score sheet. Offensively the Rams are still capable of producing buckets even with a few key pieces stuck in a cold spell at the moment.
HAVOC isn’t in a slump per say as more modifications are still being added to the defensive arsenal of VCU. Averaging around 11 steals per contest thus far, VCU are still able to pickpocket opponents while holding them to 34.8% shooting from the three point arc. There are moments during the game where the opposition are able to hold off HAVOC with a few scoring runs against the mysterious zone or man to man coverage Coach Wade puts out on the floor. Even with that the Rams still manage to hold their own on defense.
And it wasn’t enough?
For 3 games this season it wasn’t enough against top caliber teams that odds are will be dancing in the NCAA Tournament come March. Moral victories aside, VCU now focus on a battle tested Georgia Tech with a 6-2 record overall and 4-1 at home. Momentum is on the Yellow Jackets with a two game winning streak and look to increase it to three straight before heading to Athens to take on in-state rival Georgia.
Leaving Atlanta with a loss had VCU feeling some kind of way. In order for the Rams to come up with the win during their second trip down to the Peach State, VCU can’t rely on just Melvin Johnson.
VCU must rely on VCU to get the job done.
Ram Reminder: VCU head back to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech. Tip-Off set for Tuesday, December 15th at 9 PM on ESPN 2.