Note: Upon further review, VCU dominated this game far more than it seemed. It was probably due to all the reasons outlined below in the original wrap up. However I spent some time today digging more deeply, and realized Tennessee led in the game for eight seconds. VCU led for 38:16. And after JeQuan Lewis’s horrific injury, VCU went from a 26-19 lead to a 48-30 halftime cushion. In all, the Rams were +9 without Briante Weber and Lewis.
Shaka Smart called last night’s 85-69 season-opening win over Tennessee one of the weirdest games he’s ever coached. Nobody who witnessed the 2:40 whistlefest would disagree. The game lacked any sort of flow and featured brilliant play followed immediately by frustrating play interspersed with plays you don’t normally see. In short, this game absolutely looked like the first game of the season.
It was choppy in places having nothing to do with the officiating, and the Rams struggled to penetrate Tennessee’s matchup zone. On the other side, the Vols found soft spots in the VCU defense during its second half surge that shaved a 19-point deficit to eight and capitalized in the midrange. What’s more, the Rams couldn’t take advantage of the whistles at the foul line and committed 18 turnovers of its own.
And with all that, VCU beat an SEC team by 16 points, and the game was never closer than eight points the final 26 minutes. You have to pull aside the blanket of weirdness to find the gold nuggets.
Pure Firepower: The Melvin posted a 20-point first half, but it had more TNT embedded in it. Johnson had 15 points in an nine-minute stretch in the first half. Over those same nine minutes, the entire Tennessee team scored nine points.
Connectedness: You don’t lose your top three point guards, face a serious injury with unknown consequences, and plow through the herky-jerky nature of this game (and, honestly, ease your way to victory) without having some sort of extra gear underneath your rib cage.
Depth: Jordan Burgess played a very efficient and tough 28 minutes–10 points, five rebounds, and two assists. Don’t let his one turnover and two fouls while playing aggressive basketball get past you. That’s impressive. And how about Dougie Brooks doing Dougie Brooks things–a couple wild shots, and a couple big threes, and a six-points-in-10-seconds spree. Terry Larrier had nine of VCUs 14 points over nine minutes in the middle of the second half. With foul trouble and sketchy offense harming VCU, Larrier was there.
Timeliness: Mo Alie Cox hit two free throws, Burgess a reverse layup, and Terry Larrier a corner three. All came at times when the Rams were teetering. Smart called Treveon Graham’s taking a charge to foul out Josh Richardson the biggest play of the game. Finally, Johnson hit the nail-in-coffin shot, his only bucket of the second half.
Role Acceptance: Jarred Guest grabbed seven rebounds in 12 minutes, including five on the offensive end. He took one shot. For comparison purposes, that’s 23.3 rebounds per 40 minutes. Last season the nation’s leader in rebounds per 40 minutes was at 17.1.
Important Number: 62.1%. The Rams grabbed 23 offensive rebounds off 37 missed shots, good for a 62.1% offensive rebounding percentage. VCU was 14th nationally last season with an offensive rebound percentage of 46.9%.
I have not dealt publicly with JeQuan Lewis and I will not. You saw the play and the injury. It scared me. I will let the official word be the official word.
Summary of Three, Knucklehead
1. VCU is 1-0 and took an important (and not easy) step forward. Toledo will be a bigger challenge.
2. Graham’s 15/14 double-double was another direct deposit game. And what he did for his team that had nothing to do with production was better.
3. I’ve spent 15 years writing and talking about how depth is overrated. This team has me reconsidering that belief. Maybe it’s versatility, I don’t know. But I can’t imagine any single game offering the Rams this combination of adversity. And they were able to play through it to victory.
One Bit of Fun
When Burgess had that putback jam, named the #4 SportsCenter top play, I commented that it was a “grown man’s play.” Robby countered with something along the lines of it being “your grandfather who fought in the war’s” play. I’m still laughing.