VCU 71, Eastern Kentucky 68 (OT): Or, Giggling Like Ellis…
Well that was fun, wasn't it?
It's probably a good thing that the Old Dominion game is right on the heels of VCUs 71-68 overtime victory over Eastern Kentucky. It would be oh-too-easy to overanalyze this one. So let's leave it at this: that was an outstanding basketball game between two very good teams in a festive atmosphere. It was so very taut that we couldn't find a winner after 40 minutes. Defense certianly was victorious but it wasn't ugly defense nor rock fighting. It was more a middleweight title bout along the lines of Leonard/Hagler.
Appreciate it on its surface–that's why we pack That Animal and love college basketball. If you chose to stay away last night, you deserve the misery. That was an awesome three hours.
But we do need to revisit what we saw.
VCU took 31 threes, a gigantic number. In fact, the Rams were 13-31 from three and just 12-24 on two-point shots. (We will not discuss free throws, other than this: I'm befuddled how a team can make 16-18 on the road, and then come home five days later and make 8-17. You figure that out. I don't have enough brain cells.)
I'd wager to say 27 of those arc bombs were good looks. It kept VCU in the game in a first half in which the Rams were probably outplayed for 15 minutes. Here's the thing: yes we wanted to get the ball inside to Juvonte Reddic. No, we could not get the ball inside to Juvonte Reddic. That's not the fault of Reddic nor the point guards. That's credit to the other guys, who made it darn near impossible for VCU to execute Plan A.
So we went to Plan B–wide open threes. It was rather straightforward, really. Once a VCU guard was able to break that frontline perimeter defense, he was in the lane with a power play. It was a matter of making the right decision. That corner three was wide open, and we took what was given. The hard part was getting past the perimeter defense of EKU. But when they did, VCU made them pay.
Defensively, VCU faced an experienced and schooled EKU team. The Colonels had its Plan B well-scouted, and they executed. It looked for awhile like Corey Walden was in an extended layup line. VCU buckled down in critical stretches and made enough shots to force the overtime.
The overtime saw 20 tired legs running around. That's when the mental side of defense must emerge. You have to have the want-to to make critical stops, and VCU made five straight stops in the overtime period. That was the difference.
Parse everything and it comes to this: VCU faced a talented team that executed well. The Rams were forced to adjust and did just that. It was a gutty win, another growth step, and it's time to move on to Sunday. Let's all just thank some sort of deity that Walden's halfcourt heave didn't go in.
Curmudgeon time: Ball security was an emphasis of the coaching staff, and 16 turnovers is not what they were looking for. The troubling aspect is that these turnovers were different. Many were harried passes while under duress, or wild dribbles into the lane.
We don't use this word very often here, but it fits. Poise. At times last night VCU was lacking poise and played outside its character. The good news to that: it's largely controllable.
We are watching JeQuan Lewis grow up right before our eyes. It wasn't too long ago that Lewis was committing 536 turnovers in the back-and-gold game. You can see him figuring out the game at this level, and that is fun to watch.
"We don't win this game without JeQuan," said Smart postgame. "In fact, we don't win the last two games without him."
Smart also said so much of it had to do with attitude, that Lewis showed up this past week in a far more positive frame of mind and the right attitude. Remember, Lewis is 18 years old so he's growing up as a person as well as a basketball player.
And note this: much of the time that Lewis and Briante Weber were on the floor together it as Lewis as the primary ballhandler, with Weber moving to the wing. That's trust.