There is an eloquence in the way Shaka Smart speaks. His answers to questions, whether long or short, pointed or conversational, technical or philosophical, make sense. The manner in which he is able to communicate his intent and meaning is impressive.
That’s why it struck me last night when, less than 10 seconds into our postgame interview, Smart paused. He shook his head and looked away and into the distance, returning to our conversation by apologizing for wanting to change the subject.
Smart then paused again. It was a decidedly non-eloquent moment for him. In that second pause, and it occurred in a nanosecond, Smart had a look in his eyes I’ve rarely seen. He had paused to find words, the right words to articulate what he wanted to say. There was deep meaning in those eyes that told me what he was about to say was very important.
And then he started again. Smart began to talk about the crowd that braved ever-worsening weather conditions to fill That Animal last night. The exuberance that buffets the spirits of the VCU players and carves the path that makes the Siegel Center a descent into basketball hell for opponents was tangible. Lively. Present.
I wanted to talk about the basketball game, VCUs very impressive steamrolling of GW. Shaka Smart wanted to talk about the fans.
It was obvious he was moved by what happened last night.
You could see there was a sharper focus from the players from the jump. Though VCU missed five of its first six shots the offense looked in synch. The defense was causing problems in the GW backcourt. The highlight began with about 14 minutes to go, when VCU churned out an 18-2 run in which the Colonials went eight minutes without a field goal.
The first half ended with GW committing 14 turnovers. When set beside an 8-14 performance from three from VCU, you can see how a 45-28 advantage occurs against a 19-4 basketball team. The Melvin hit three bonus shots on his own, finishing 6-8 from the field.
In the second half the Rams were able to keep GW at arm’s length, until back-to-back threes—one from Nemana Mikic and another from Mo Creek—brought the margin to a rather uncomfy 59-54. It took 13 seconds for Johnson to respond. He buried his fifth three of the game to restore an eight-point advantage, bringing the raucous crowd back to its feet. Two minutes later a 13-3 run restored order.
The difference in the game, to me, was on the glass. In the first meeting, GW grabbed 50% of its own misses. The Colonials had 16 offensive rebounds. Last night, they were held to nine offensive rebounds, or just 27%.
VCU is now in sole possession of second place in the A10 at 8-2 with a road trip coming up to…and this is like pointing out 2 + 2 = 4…Saint Louis.