VCU 76, Fordham 60. Or, Hurts So Good…
You can admit it. Promise, it's okay. The minute you say the words, out loud, you will feel better because the world won't end, VCU will still be eligible for the NCAA tournament, and Shaka Smart will still be the head coach.
"VCU played ugly last night, and the Rams won ugly last night."
There now. Was that so difficult?
It isn't what goes through your mind when you picture VCU basketball, this concept of blue collar or workmanlike performance. VCU is a high-flying trapeze act, wide open up-and-down the court, gunning threes and picking pockets and producing possession after possession of Melvin Boogiedowns* and Briante Weber being shot out of a cannon.
You don't think about the elephant lifting a car over in Ring Two, or the Sweedish juggling act firing a half-dozen chain saws at each other. But that's what VCU did last night against a game and feisty Fordham team.
It was a choppy affair, to say the least. Without flow, VCU was able to muster enough effort and make enough plays against a sagging Fordham zone to protect a 17-point halftime lead. VCU didn't cruise to victory as much as it carried a Volkswagon on its back to victory.
They can't all be pretty, but it's a win. It counts the exact same as the roadie over LaSalle, and the win this coming Saturday.
Let me be clear: "ugly" is not the same as "bad." VCU did not play poorly. Yes, the Rams only shot 34% from the field, but that isn't the result of playing poorly. Many times VCU ran very good offense and clanked a shot. Or, didn't look like they had any idea of how to solve the Fordham zone and then buried a shot.
Was I the only one who crinkled up his face after the first half and then said "holy crap, we scored 40 points." Yeah, that's what I mean. It wasn't artistic, but it was effective.
The defense may not have been havocy, but it was there: Fordham shot just 37% overall and 25% from three. VCU forced 18 turnovers and thefted 11 steals. You will read ugly stats from Fordham's best players later.
And this should not get past you as we dive into February: nobody played more than 26 minutes.
VCU shot 23-27 from the line, including mirror-image 4-4s from Juvonte Reddic and Mo Alie-Cox. Here's a tip: stop trying to figure out free throws. They work plenty hard on them every day. People are paid a lot of money to figure it out and they can't do it. You won't either.
The most important sequence of the game came with a 11 minutes to play. Fordham had whittled the VCU margin to an antsy 12 points, and sharpshooting freshman Jon Severe had an open look at a three to cut the lead to an ants-in-the-pants single digits. It rimmed out. Eight seconds later Melvin Johnson swished a three to extend the lead back to 15 points.
Severe and running mate Branden Frazier came into the game the #1 and #3 scorers in the A-10, averaging 38 points beteween them. They were held to 14 points on 5-23 shooting.
VCU hauled in 20 offensive rebounds. I'm fast-believing this is the most important offensive statistic to track for this team. You can erase shooting woes–and more generally make up the difference in being a 40% shooting team and a 45% shooting team–when you are getting second and third cracks at the rim.
Briante Weber: an unremarkable seven points, four assists, and zero turnovers. Smart was quick to point out the quality of Weber's floor game. Against a scabrous Fordham zone, Weber again made high quality decisions.
*Melvin Johnson was in full swag mode, which all kidding aside makes VCU a much better team. He also had one of the best quotes of the year. In response to a question from the APs Hank Kurz about a fake-pass-and-shoot spin move, a true beauty straight from the playground, Johnon responded that since VCU was playing against a team from the Bronx he would offer up his name for the move. "…I call that the boogie down."
I'm no more and no less informed about Treveon Graham's injured toe. Shaka Smart said last night it looked like a sprained toe and was something that has happened in the past. Also, Terrance Shannon improved to the In Uniform stage of his comeback from a hurt knee. Smart said Shannon was not quite ready.