I'm sitting squarely at the emotional intersection of anger, disappointment, pride, and hopeful joy. What a doggone November rollercoaster wrapped up in 40 minutes.
I don't know if they keep records on this kind of thing, but VCU forced Mike Krzyzewski to call a 30-second timeout less than two minutes into the basketball game. That has to be near the top of Coach Ks alltime volcano timeout list for quickest fingers to the shoulders.
The Rams and Devils battled in one of the more interesting first halves–havoc was no factor, and neither was the supposed Duke size advantage. VCU again started the second half slowly–that's a trend worth watching–and fell behind by double digits. They battled back but fell short primarily, in the words of Shaka Smart "because we just didn't make shots."
There is no greater descriptor for the evening than excruciating agony. The game felt like a bad dream where you're raking leaves but they are falling off trees faster than you can rake them up. You full a bag, tie it off, smile, and look up to see a yardfull more. I just knew Briante Weber was going to pick a pocket, head man the ball to Darius Theus, who would hit Troy Daniels for a three in transition that would also signal liftoff. It never came.
It was painful to see those free throws carom away, and to play the role of Hall & Oates–so close, yet so far away. This is bitter. However I am comforted to think that this wasn't a good offensive night, havoc was largely ineffective, we shot free throws poorly, and the fifth-ranked team in the nation will sleep soundly tonight because they were tested, big time. I'm proud of this team, and you should also be proud.
The loss make you want to cuss, but the big picture is brighter. You hate to learn lessons in a loss, but this was a step forward for this team. Still has the acid-in-the-intestines feel, though.
Opportunity exists, again, at 7pm Saturday. VCU faces its third straight ranked team, a program first.
Where Things Changed
In the middle of the ugly six straight misses from the free throw line debacle, the Rams missed two front ends. There's the points, and then there's the opportunity for the back end. More points, and even though havoc wasn't effective you want the opportunity to set up the press.
Two additional empty possessions means the game stalled at 56-50 for what seemed like an eternity. That was the opportunity to gut-punch Duke, and VCU didn't convert.
What It Means
Honestly, who knows? There's the immediate hangover which is going to matter greatly as it relates to tomorrow's mindset. The Rams get #13 Missouri so let's not lose sight of the big picture–VCU can leave the Bahamas 2-1 with two victories over ranked teams. This toughie cannot linger between the ears.
Otherwise there's the sting of a game we felt we had a good chance to win slip away. Outside of that, I'm not sure there's much more than a "good RPI loss" once VCU leaves the islands.
Statistic That Jumps Out At Me
VCU pulled down 17 offensive rebounds. Duke ran 6-10 Ryan Kelly and 6-11 Mason Plumlee at the Rams. VCU never backed down and quite frankly played harder than Duke. That's my glass-half-full stat.
Glass half-empty: Duke 24-27 free throws. Gack.
The Curmudgeon's View
VCU has lost twice this season, and struggled from the free throw line in both games. You can talk all you want about the little things. That's fine and important and all that. But the free throw line is a different little thing in that there's no opposition control. I will tip my cap when someone makes a play to beat us, but the free throw line is a friendly-fire wound. Tonight, I'm quite frankly bewildered. The Rams knocked down their first eight free throws and 10-11. Then, six straight bricks. You figure that out.
Stars of the Game
***Juvonte Reddic. I must caution you to not go overboard when you read the next three sentences. I snuck a peak at the list of NBA scouts in attendance this weekend, and it ran 28 scouts long. The way Reddic got to his 16/13 is a bucket of cold water–spin moves, powerful rebounds, and jump hooks. One word–arsenal. Shaka Smart is still hesitant to give Reddic full-out praise, and I know there's a reason, but Reddic keeps taking steps forward, right in front of us, towards all-conference status.
**Rob Brandenberg. Okay, so he made five fewer threes in five attempts than last night. However Brandenberg continued his assault on playing with confidence and aggression. Skip 2-9 from the field and think about the two possessions late in the second half when Brandenberg played Weber-like on-ball defense. Kid is coming along, and as Shaka Smart said in postgame, the last two nights was the law of averages. I'll take 5-10 from three from Rob; just spread out a little better.
*Treveon Graham. The Freight Train chugged along against players a half-foot taller and held his own. It was a 16/8 night against a very talented team. That's what bucketmakers do on nights like this. Make no mistake, we all gave Graham a mantle he hadn't earned. Tonight, and last night really, were merit badge nights.