The first 25 minutes of this game, to an exponential degree of scary, looked exactly like Friday night's game against Duke. The Rams were swarming on defense and getting good shots on offense, clanking rims left and right. It's only fitting that the halftime score was nearly identical.
Missouri was on the verge of being whipped in the middle of the first half. The Tigers were teetering, tired, and testy. But a spate of empty offensive possessions and the outstanding play of Missouri sixth man Keion Bell turned the tide.
VCU played a solid second half, and you knew at about the 10-minute mark this was going down to the wire. Ultimately the Rams were undone by late-game rotation problems in the press that gave Missouri three easy baskets in a frenetic last sequence.
Time to go home, get some rest, and get better. As badly as everyone felt after the Duke loss, this one stung worse. However the locker room wasn't a daethmarch. There was certainly bitter disappointment and frustration, but it wasn't chock full of disillusionment or dismay. The team took this loss like any other three-point loss in a game they thought they should've won. And that's a very, very good sign.
We saw two quiet but major developments: the play of two freshmen, Justin Tuoyo and Melvin Johnson. Tuoyo gave 12 very good minutes at the four spot, a position Shaka Smart admits we're searching for answers.
And Johnson continues to show an aggressive streak uncommon for most freshmen–pump faking threes and heading into the paint on three trips. Johnson still needs work on his defense–he was caught twice looking the wrong way and burned for baskets–but Johnson looks the part.
Where Things Changed
The second-to-last possession decided things. VCU jump-trapped a retreating Phil Pressey and forced a timeout call with 10 seconds on the shot clock. After the stoppage it appeared the Rams again had Pressey hemmed in around the foul line, but he ducked under and hit a tough leaner. When coaches talk about kids making plays, this is a prime example. Nothing went wrong…Pressey just hit a big shot.
However like in the Wichita State game, breakdowns in defensive rotation led to three easy Missouri baskets in the waning minutes. When Smart talks of discipline, THAT is a prime example.
What It Means
Today, nothing. I mean that. It was a close, taut loss, a game that VCU believes–rightfully so–that it should've won. The internalizing that the kids feel good because they competed with the 13th ranked team in the country is hollow, inaccurate, and an excuse. All they know is that we lost. As for the coaches, they have a shining barometer on what needs to be tweaked.
Come March, when we're chewing on at large resumes, we will bring this game back up to discuss its significance–Missouri is a top three SEC team–but as for now it's just another game on the schedule.
Statistic That Jumps Out At Me
Two assists and five turnovers from the point guard spot. I'm okay with the turnovers–at our pace turnovers will happen. However two assists is glaring, especially when you put it against this number: three fast break points. When the offense is clicking, Darius Theus is dropping dimes on the break. Missouri did a very good job stuffing that last night.
The Curmudgeon's View
This weekend exposed exactly where we are missing Brad Burgess. When the offense got stagnant against Duke, it was usually because the first option was defended and led to too much dribbling. Against Missouri, VCU just needed someone to hit a basket. We had no take-charge scorer. It isn't Troy Daniels, who for all his gifts cannot create his own shot. It can't be Juvonte Reddic–he needs to be fed the ball. And it isn't Darius Theus, who doesn't have hte variety of offensive weapons. What this team needs is someone who will take the basketball, tell everyone to get out of his way, and take care of business. Said differently: a bucketmaker.
Stars of the Game
***Treveon Graham. On a night where we desperately needed a stat sheet stuffer, Graham had 12 points, five rebounds, FIVE ASSISTS, and a steal.
**Rob Brandenberg. He capped off a very good weekend with a solid 10 points and hit two big time threes in crucial spots. Brandenberg was also very good in the non-statistical categories.
*Juvonte Reddic. with little else working, Reddic spun and hit three jump hooks on isolation plays. He very much got the best of Alex Oriahki. Reddic also pulled down a handful of man-sized rebounds in his 12/9 night.
My apologies for run ons or misspelled words–we board the plane home in 10 minutes. Expect a trip wrap up by tomorrow morning.