Treveon Graham dunked the ball last night. Mo said no five times, including the posterizing of Jordair Jett captured by Jim Swing in the Vine below. And VCU ran away from the 10th ranked team in the country 67-56. DSL never led, and the Billikens were never tied after the second basket of the game in front of a ravenous, cantankerous crowd.
It was that kind of night in That Animal.
Even so, there was a sweaty palms feel as the game moved into its later stages. DSL was within striking distance, and you don't get to 25-3 without being a dangerous basketball team. Jordair Jett, the stout bulldog of a leader and likely conference player of the year, had put the Billikens on his two-yards-wide shoulders. The convincing moment, for me, occurred with about six minutes to play.
The Rams had parried every DSL charge, and Rob Brandenberg came up with a steal. He and Juvonte Reddic charged downcourt, where Reddic tossed a lob pass to Brandenberg. It was a play of ultimate confidence, your all-conference center throwing lob pass in the open court.
Brandenberg leapt with a DSL defender draped on him and adjusted in midair, eschewing a dunk for an easy lay in–impressive because VCU struggled again to finish at the rim. The smooth play restored a 12-point lead, but then Brandenberg committed a foul near halfcourt and he did something strange. He started laughing.
Melvin Johnson joined him at midcourt with a wide smile. Ditto Briante Weber. When Reddic joined the trio and created a quartet of smiles, I knew we had them. Four Rams, smiling and laughing about a bad foul near midcourt as the Rams tried to protect a lead against the 10th-ranked team in the country.
Winners remain confident and relaxed among the maelstrom of a challenge. It was that kind of night in That Animal, and a significant mental step forward on the first night of the month of winners.
It's never going to be perfect. VCU struggled again from beyond the arc (3-16) and was forced into some gloppiness by the DSL defense. But the Rams also had just six turnovers and buried 16-20 free throws.
We use advanced statistics a great deal in this space, and I admit many times they may not make total sense within the context of a game. However last night's victory is a testament to their value in understanding the how we won.
In a game where defense dictates the way a game unfolds, offensive efficiency becomes paramount. VCU turned the ball over on just 9.8% of its possessions and DSL fessed it up 28% of the time. VCU grabbed 39% of its misses–Jarred Guest had four rebounds and all four were on the offensive end. That led to VCU getting 13 additional field goal attempts, which can offset poor shooting.
Even with the tough shooting, the summary is easy: there are a certain number of possessions in every game, and you will have good ones and bad ones. Though a littany of statistics are tracked, the end sum is that the team who values the possession more generally wins the game. VCU scored 1.063 points per possession and DSL 0.889.
The breaks of the race went the way of the Rams yesterday. Both UMass (to Dayton) and Richmond (to Rhody) lost. When coupled with VCUs win we are now in sole possession of third place in the A10. To reset:
St. Louis: 12-2 (vs. Dayton, at UMass)
St. Joseph's: 11-3 (at GW, vs. LaSalle)
VCU: 10-4 (at Richmond, vs. Bonnies)
UMass: 9-5 (at Duquesne, vs. DSL)
GW: 8-5 (vs. Mason, vs.St. Joseph's, at Fordham)
Dayton: 8-6 (at DSL, vs. Richmond)
Richmond: 8-6 (vs. VCU, at Dayton)
If my math is correct, VCU is one win from guaranteeing a top four seed and Thursday bye in the A10 tournament. The Rams are one- or two-games up on GW, Dayton, and Richmond. The victory over DSL ensured the Rams own tiebreakers over those three teams. So one more win means VCU cannot be caught.
Mo Says Hello: