So let me get this straight: VCU slogs along in the first half, essentially trading buckets with George Mason. In fact, the teams were separated by one possession the final 13 minutes of the half. There's some good plays, and some bad plays, and whole bucket-full of mediocre plays. There was seat-shifting in the 43rd version of a sold out Animal.
Halftime score: VCU 35, Mason 34. (Side note: halftime score against Stony Brook: VCU 36, SBU 35.)
After trading free throws to open the second half, a Juvonte Reddic steal and Rob Brandenberg layup—followed by Briante Weber's second most-ridiculous steal of the night–fueled a 9-0 run. VCU was able to keep a game George Mason team at arm's length the rest of the night.
It's a familiar story and we will all live with it.
Perhaps that's part of our identity? I don't know. While it would be fun to jingle and jaunt to big first half leads and then cruise, we have to remember the other guy is trying, too. They have college-level talent. They want to win. They aren't laying down because we say so or we have this branded defense. To believe otherwise is to take myopia to a new level.
You'll drive yourself crazy trying to figure out why VCU did this or didn't do that. Our guys are trying to make shots, and trying to defend–probably more so than any of our opponents. So live with it, and appreciate what happens in the locker room when you are grabbing a drink or doing whatever it is you do during halftime.
Shaka Smart mentioned in postgame the other night that at halftime they made a subtle switch in the way in which they were defending George Mason's ball screens. What's more, the coaching staff emphasized staying in front of your man. Smart will defer credit to the players but let's be clear–the older guys wearing suits are designing the success. The players have to execute it.
Once again, it worked.
George Mason scored seven points in the first 10 minutes of the second half, and 23 points overall. And there's your trend. We mentioned it in passing last week, but it matters. The second half belongs to havoc.
It's a combination of the physical and mental. Think about driving in traffic. When you first start, it is annoying, for sure, but you deal with it. That's what happens. At some point, you have that small window where it seemingly breaks up and you make it into third gear. That's halftime in this basketball analogy.
But traffic snarls again–this time worse–and your attitude is worse. It just keeps coming at you, and you are sick and tired of it. You start taking chances, get mentally flustered. Move to the wrong lane and pump the brakes and get madder. It compounds to the point you are punching the steering wheel and vowing to move to a country that has no cars.
Havoc gets you.
In this five-game winning streak, three teams have not scored 30 points in the second half. I'd argue the other two–BC and Virginia Tech–only got there because we played the last six minutes in garbage time. Only one, Virginia Tech, scored more than 12 points in the first 10 minutes.
Here's the numbers. The first number is points scored in the first 10 minutes, and the number in parentheses is the total points scored in the second half:
- George Mason 7 (23)
- Stony Brook 7 (28)
- Boston College 12 (33)
- Virginia Tech 15 (30)
- Wofford 12 (29)
VCU has the 10th best defense in the nation, with an efficiency rate of 91.4. That means against an average offensive team, the Rams would give up a little more than 91 points in every 100 possessions. I'd also wager, given the nature of our games, that VCUs second half defense is second to none.
What's more, since we got back from Puerto Rico, other than Northern Iowa, VCU has scored 69 or more points in every game and not given up more than 68 points.
My point: this team is defending at a high level, especially in the second halves of games. We're going to need it, because the A-10 season is going to be a bear. Stick with the process, because it eventually pays off, whether in the legs or between the ears of the opposition.
George Mason was simply the latest lab rat.
Oh, and whatever it is you do at halftime, be expedient and get back to your seat. If not, the data shows that you are likely to miss something important.