St. Louis 64, VCU 62. Or, The Line Between Victory and Defeat Is Dotted…
You and I both knew the shot was splashing down. There was no doubt.
We've seen it multiple times from multiple areas on the floor. It was from farther out against Virginia. It was a layup against LaSalle. Treveon Graham rises to shoot in a big game, and he makes a big shot. Writing about that play should come with a trademark symbol.
Graham was wide open on yet another well-designed and well-executed play and again rose to shootTM from the left wing. VCU had fought back from a 12-point deficit, and then a nine-point hole with less than five minutes to play against the Billikens.
But Graham's shot with 1:42 to play caromed high off the back iron and settled into the hands of Jordair Jett. I will go to my grave believing if that shot goes, SLU does not recover.
The Rams had trailed 53-44 with just under five minutes to play and were dead in the water. Except that they weren't. Nine straight points, capped by a Graham nostalgic three point play, tied the game with two minutes left.
Even though Mike McCall fought through two VCU defenders to make a tough layup–VCU was playing its only possession of zone defense on the afternoon–VCU was down two, had the ball, and Graham rose to shoot a backbreakerTM.
What Was Right
While there were gloppy possessions, on the whole VCU ran very good offense. And this may come as a surprise, and possibly even ring a tad homerific, but I don't believe the SLU defense was all that suffocating. When VCU stuck to its principles, the Rams got good shots. They missed a wheel-barrow full of them, but they got good ones–certainly more open looks than people would've believed going into the game.
Mo Alie Cox. He was very helpful in guarding the rim on defense, and Alie-Cox is a better post defender than people notice.
Briante Weber. I would like to officially close the book on any speculation about Weber's ability to play point guard. He can. Move on.
Intangibles. This team fought. Hard. It was nowhere near a perfect game but the effort existed. On an afternoon when shots weren't falling and SLU kept punching, VCU could've folded the tents. They never did. That bodes well.
What Was Wrong
Shooting. A 2-16 performance from three will not cut the birthday cake. Ever. It is especially pungent when you are playing at the #1 team in the conference. VCU came into the game scoring about 30% of its points from three-point land. On Saturday, that number was 9.7%. When all else is balanced out, this is the differentiator in the win and loss. Both VCU and SLU outplayed the other for stretches, as you would expect from good teams.
Leading Statistics. VCU had two assists on 11 made baskets in the second half. SLU only gave VCU four fast break points in the entire game. I believe the assists issue resides in the number of bricks. However the point is that we can overcome poor shooting by getting out in transition, or we can defeat a slow game by making shots. It's tough to score in abundance when you get neither.
Notes of Indifference, But Worth Watching
SLU went on a gigantic 18-4 run in the middle of the second half, fueled by Jordair Jett's ability to get into the lane. The Billikens shot a lot of layups in that stretch. However that isn't particularly troubling.
First, that's what SLU wants to do–you have to expect they will be successful with their plan at some point. Second, no team will play a perfect game. Third, VCU gambles and traps even in the halfcourt–that naturally leads to a few breakdowns.
Those five seniors from SLU played 171 of 200 minutes. That's 85.5% of their minutes. They all knew where they were going and what they needed to do. It's worth pondering that the difference in the game came down to their frontline players were better than VCUs frontlione players yesterday. But that's a lot to ask of anyone's body in March. There is a cumulative effect, and there's the cumulative effect of havoc.
VCU was blown out of this building last year and then faced a tough Xavier team on the road. The Rams trailed in the second half by 17 points but pulled out the victory. UMass awaits with a very similar test on Friday. The point: a loss to a very good team in their building isn't exactly the end of the world.
Besides, SLU fell to 1-2 in the Atlantic 10 last January 19 but has gone 25-1 in its last 26 A10 games. They are also 34-3 in Chaifetz. And VCU was horrid from three. My goodness with all that going against VCU, as well as a building-record overflow crowd, and we only lost by a bucket?
VCU could've folded at the 14:00 mark when SLU went up seven. Could've folded at the 10:00 mark when SLU went up 12. At the 5:00 mark when the lead got back to nine and at the 37-second mark when it went back to seven.
It never happened. This team is not perfect but it will not be outfought.
I'll go to war with this team any day.