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VCU 71, Dayton 65: Believe…

We throw around words and phrases when talking about VCU basketball. They’ve become familiar; even rote.

Response. Resolve. Process. The Plan. Playing with a clear head.

We throw the words and phrases around with a cursory and vague understanding of their meaning. The words sound smart and we can make sense of them. We are able to string these words and phrases together to make us feel either better or empty, depending on our personal outlook, about the status of those 14 kids playing basketball for our favorite team.

We throw them around for no other reason than our head coach uses them. There is a comfort in that accuracy, even this year when we’ve use them over and over and over.

But here’s the thing: it isn’t about using them over and over and over and it isn’t about them explaining anything, good or bad. That makes us parrots.

It’s about your belief in those words. It’s about what those words mean within the deepest sanctum of the team and the coaches. For us, it’s the product of those words and phrases, the output.

It’s our job to believe in the direction.

And if these past four days in Brooklyn didn’t restore your faith in whatever those words mean when they are spoken in the VCU locker room, what they really mean, then you will never believe what this team and this coach can accomplish.

It’s your own personal clear mind.

***

At times over these four days, these four wins, we saw each facet of the program shine.

Fordham was exactly what we expected it to be: a grind as the guys got their legs under them. It wasn’t pretty on any level, but eventually the better team won. Resolve.

Richmond began Revenge Weekend.

We saw just enough offense, and a stout defensive effort. We got glimpse of SwagMel and some straight, cold playmaking late. The Spiders got us in late January and February, but victory belonged to VCU in the month of Madness.

Davidson proved that when you poke a bear with a stick, bad things happen. The Wildcats played eight minutes with the same swagger we saw in North Carolina, and then gave way to the bear. The 40-12 offensive blitzkrieg to end the first half was striking in its forcefulness, and duration.

We saw additional levels of toughness. Davidson closed the lead to five, but VCU gave the ball to #21 and produced a 10-0 run to put the game away. Leadership.

And today’s win over Dayton showed what a brilliant coaching move can do to win a game.

Other than two curious possessions of zone late in the Davidson game with the final no longer in doubt, VCU had played no zone defense all season.

Literally none.

Doug Brooks checked into the game at the 1:13 mark, just after Treveon Graham hit a layup to give VCU a 61-59 lead. Smart was going offense/defense with Brooks and Terry Larrier. Brooks plays the defense side, so it was a natural substitution.

So there was nothing alarming when Dayton inbounded the ball to Scoochie Smith, who crossed halfcourt, and prepared to enter Dayton into its offense at a critical juncture. But Smith backed up.

Shaka Smart went zone.

With one minute to play in a championship game.

And Smith had not one clue what to do with it. There’s no way any tape existed and there was no way Dayton was at all prepared for it.

On cue, Brooks jumped a tentative Smith pass—no VCU guard was in the same position it had been all day—and his steal produced a JeQuan Lewis layup and a four-point cushion.

Smith again crossed halfcourt, fearful of the 2-3 menace, and Archie Miller called timeout.

Those two possessions sealed the deal.

Okay, Terry Larrier (4-4), Lewis (2-2) and Graham’s (2-2) perfect 8-8 accuracy from the free throw line in the last 40 seconds sealed the deal.

But that switch to go zone, at that point, was both gutsy and brilliant.

And that allowed us to throw around another phrase, and we know its meaning: Atlantic 10 champions.