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VCU 72, George Mason 60: What Can Be…

It was a scant 1:36 shift for Jonny Williams, but it summed up last night’s stirring and lovable 72-60 victory over George Mason.

VCU had played four gritty minutes without an injured Treveon Graham, and had wrestled a Mason lead that threatened double figures back to 32-28 with a smidgen less than two minutes to play in the first half. JeQuan Lewis picked up his second foul and headed to the bench, and Williams replaced him. In my mind, this was a big moment.

If Williams plays loose and Mason closes on, say, an 8-2 run primarily due to poor point guard play, the Rams hit the locker room sullen and Mason feels as if they absorbed, and survived, a punch.

On his first live possession, Williams grabbed a rebound, rocketshipped down the floor, and fed Justin Tillman for a layup. After a missed free throw Williams again exploited the lane and fed Tillman to tie the game at 32-32. Two offensive possessions, two assists.

Mason did score to lead 34-32 at the break, but momentum was clearly on the side of the visiting team whose fans were responsible for the energy in the cavernous Patriot Center.

The second half saw the VCU defense tighten up–Mason scored six points in the first 8:30 of the half–and the offense begin to work smoothly. The Rams committed just two second half turnovers. Lewis finished with 13 points, four assists, and two steals against just two turnovers. He was 7-7 from the line. Yeah.

Job well done, Jonny Turbo, and job well done, everyone:

  • Doug Brooks, who looks like his arms and legs could fall off his body at any moment, was everywhere. Brooks doesn’t have a nose for the ball like Briante Weber, but he has a nose for action.
  • I see you, Mike Gilmore. He didn’t play until the second half but was ready. Swish. Swish.
  • Mo Alie Cox proving once again that if you’re to go after Mo Alie Cox, you’d better bring help. An open court steal and dunk, followed by a that-ball-is-mine rip from Shevon Thompson, were the highlights. However Cox used his mobility and physicality to limit Thompson to four field goal attempts (one make).
  • Speaking of men, Jordan Burgess pulled down three Man Rebounds in the second half (and three regular rebounds elsewhere) that were very important.
  • The Melvin with The 17 Points.
  • And the man who impressed me most, Justin Tillman. The Fro has taken small steps forward all season long, but last night was a big step.

But here’s the thing you didn’t expect me to write: I’d say the Rams took a step forward last night, but be wary of fool’s gold. It isn’t linear. Sometimes you take steps sideways, and sometimes you take steps backwards. The coaching staff knows the players need to continue to mature along their arc of improvement to March.

The point is that we saw last night what this team can be, when they play as a team. VCU has now won on the road without Treveon Graham (Duquesne), a neutral site without Briante Weber (Tennessee), and on the road without Graham and Weber (Mason). That guarantees nothing, but it gives Shaka Smart a jump on the kind of connected play that right now 351 college basketball coaches want. Melvin Johnson knows:

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