I awoke early this morning, before six, the victim of aging combined with a full plate that included windshield time getting my daughter back to college. It wasn’t difficult, really. It’s never difficult to lift myself out of bed after a win. Then again, it isn’t particularly difficult after a loss, either. I’m just in a much better mood after a win.
As the coffee brewed and I stared out the kitchen window at a slow drizzle in the lamppost, I pondered the victory over ODU and was hit with an odd feeling.
What the hell is that?
VCU had just beaten ODU. The dreaded ‘Narchs. 64 East University. That Animal was full and jumping. It was a blackout. Head coach Jeff Jones pulled a very rivalry move and wore dark jerseys so the VCU players, who had planned to wear black to do their part in the blackout, had to change to the familiar white home togs.
Everything was in place, and then the game lived up to billing.
The Rams withstood an early body blow, a barrage of threes staking ODU to a quick lead. The Monarchs, as you would expect, were not cowering to the crowd and atmosphere and making plays.
VCU made more plays, displayed a toughness, and won a fun contest, 76-67. For those two hours it was late February 2007, not late November 2015.
I got to say hello to Tyron McCoy and Kareem Washington–look them up if you are younger than 40–and then went home to The Beautiful One and a few cold Stellas.
All was right with the world.
But this morning was very different.
If it was indeed February 2007 I would’ve spent the morning entrenched in the play-by-play. I would’ve dissected possessions and turning points in the game. Re-checked my notes on what I saw from Blaine Taylor.
Today, I saw the sun rise thinking strictly about VCU, and not just in the realm of yesterday’s 40 minutes. There’s Radford, MSG, American (quickly), and Old Dominion. Pondered VCU against itself first, and against opponents second. I didn’t even mind thinking that I’m going to root for ODUs success in Conference Planet Earth. Those are good dudes that play hard, and Jeff Jones is a likable coach.
You may not feel that way, and you may not like it, but in my mind that’s a fact. ODU is no more than another good team on the VCU schedule. In the big picture, to me, it’s no more and no less than that. And that isn’t a dig at ODU. They made their choices, and we made ours. We’re headed to different destinations.
But I’m still glad that 2007 feeling remains intact for those two hours. I loved the vibe in the building and everything that surrounded VCU vs. ODU yesterday and never want that feeling to subside. It’s part of the fabric of the growth of the VCU program.
I saw VCU take a step forward yesterday, as a team. Everybody had a hand in it, from Doug Brooks jumpstarting the offense in the first half, to a splendid 19 minutes in the second half from JeQuan Lewis.
Hamdy was, well, Hamdylicious and doing those Hamdy Things on offense. I’ll have to look it up, but I feel like VCU scores every single time he grabs an offensive rebound. Mo Alie-Cox brought praise from the opposing coach for his hedging on defense, and praise from his own coach for good decisions on offense.
The Melvin personally turned a 43-40 seat-squirmer into a 49-40 free-for-all. Once again, Korey Billbury just did a bunch of things. I’m not even sure what they were, but VCU usually came out ahead.
Jordan Burgess was the biggest and baddest man on the floor.
In the second half, Wade used four different sets to run the same play–flush the post to Cox and flatten the defense. From there, VCU was on a power play on the perimeter. Five different VCU players scored out of those sets.
A two-play summation: ODU had cut the lead back to three at 58-55 with about five minutes to go. Entry pass to Cox in the post. Back to Burgess, who whipped a pass to Billbury in the corner for a big three. Next trip down, entry pass to Cox in the post. Back to Lewis, who faked a corner pass and swung the hapless defender out of the way–he had to make a choice because it was him against two Rams. Lewis swished the three.
There was an unselfishness to the way the offense unfolded, and this was by far the best the matchup zone has looked. Rotations were far from perfect, but way better than what we’ve seen. (Side note: somebody remind me to ask Will Wade what to call that thing. It isn’t a zone, and it isn’t a traditional matchup. I may just have to name it myself.)
It just feels like the guys are figuring it out. The coaches, too. Wade admitted he put the team in a bad position in those opening possessions within the diamond press. He corrected that, and ODU shot just 38% from the field after the first media timeout.
I’m not going to get all dramatic and use phrases like turned a corner or make wild predictions. You can blow up progress in one bad night. Yesterday is a lesson that is going to have to be learned, stored, and built upon. It was a step forward but there are many steps to take, and the VCU team will be tested beginning, oh, THE VERY NEXT GAME at Middle Tennessee.
For obvious reasons I don’t talk about things I see and hear in the locker room, back in the back. But yesterday afternoon there was a different feel in the air, an authentic thrill for what the team accomplished, not what one guy did. I haven’t sensed that feel in a few years.
It had nothing to do with the opponent, either.