Those of you who follow my personal account on Twitter know I never lost faith in the VCU Rams last night. Not once.
Sure, I might’ve turned into Randy Quaid’s character from Major League a time or two, but I knew, deep down, when the final horn blew the Rams would come out victorious.
It was the third time this season VCU held an opponent to under 60 points. The Blue Raiders came into the game with a 53.8% effective field goal percentage and averaging 70 points per contest but couldn’t get it going on offense against the Rams, connecting on just 35.7% of their shots including an abysmal 19% from long range. Kermit Davis’ squad turned the ball over 17 times, their second worst performance of the season. Leading scorer Giddy Potts was limited to 1-of-9 shooting on the evening and nine points below his season average.
“They were just tougher than a really tough team.” – MTSU head coach Kermit Davis
Let’s also talk about two guys for a quick bit, oldest first.
Korey Billbury made some huge plays late. It was one of those “big-time players make big-time plays” deals.
MTSU’s Quavius Copeland’s three gave the Blue Raiders a late five-point lead and VCU fans cause for concern. Billbury answers with a three of his own to trim the lead back to two with 5:58 to play, then after a missed Potts three Melvin Johnson connects on one of his own to put VCU up one.
After another Johnson bucket and some Raider free throws the game is then tied at 52. Billbury changes that permanently however, grabbing an rebound for a bucket after a missed Mo Alie-Cox attempt to give the Rams a two-point lead. After another VCU offensive board Billbury then drains a corner three to put the black and gold up five while tightening the noose on MTSU with 1:50 to play. He would later add a free throw to his evening total but those two key plays, the offensive rebound and the corner three, were huge for VCU, and were the big plays VCU needed late to pick up a key non-conference road win.
Now let’s talk about Doug Brooks.
Brooks was 0-4 on the evening, had three fouls and two turnovers in his 19 minutes of action. It wasn’t his best night.
It may however been one of his better finishes.
Up four with 23 seconds to play (aka “plenty of time”), Melvin Johnson’s missed free throw turned into a Reggie Upshaw rebound and a glimmer of hope for the Blue Raiders. That was of course until Doug Brooks stole the ball from Upshaw just seconds later and found Korey Billbury who would hit his first free throw with 18 seconds to play, extending the lead to five.
Billbury then missed his second only to see Brooks grab a key offensive rebound that he would turn into another free throw (went 1-2 from the stripe that trip) and a six-point lead with just 16 seconds to play.
Game, set, match.
There are bad offensive nights and then there are night’s like last night. VCU connected on a season-low 31.7% of their attempts, going 12-38 inside the arc (31.6%) and 8-25 outside of it (32%). The Rams also missed a third of their free throw attempts but hit just enough to get by an MTSU squad that did just the same.
It was just the second night this season where the black and gold shot under 40% from the field.
Not against Duke, not against Wisconsin, not even against Old Dominion. The Rams last shot under 40% against American (39.3%).
Head tilt, dog confused.
To be fair, MTSU has been a statistically good defensive team, but they have also done so against a schedule that includes one Division II team and four sub-150 squads. Last season they ranked 205th nationally in effective field goal percentage D.
VCU is staring down three consecutive games against kenpom top-100 teams, all away from the Siegel Center, meaning the Rams will need an improved offensive effort if they want to extend this three-game winning streak into one that will begin to grab some national attention. I think that comes with better decision making and an extra pass here and there.
VCU shot 31.7%…on the road…and won!
Ugly wins are like a reverse hangover: feels horrible during, feels amazing the day after.
VCU’s 62 points was the Rams lowest point total in a win since the 2013-14 season. That team won at Richmond in a 56-50 grinder thanks to a comeback that erased a second half double-digit deficit, a win almost as satisfying as the other time VCU won ugly that season, winning at UVA 59-56 on a game-winning Treveon Graham three-pointer. It was one of just two home losses for the Cavaliers that season.
“We shot 32 percent. Usually those are losses. We found a way to win.” – VCU Head Coach Will Wade
Wednesday night’s win was the third time the Rams have held an opponent to 56 or fewer points this season. Last season’s team accomplished that four times, shutting down the likes of Saint Louis, George Washington, Belmont and Cincinnati, the program VCU will face in their return to the Siegel Center on Saturday, December 19.
- VCU at Middle Tennessee drew some 8,800+ fans. That’s more than double the Blue Raiders’ average attendance from last season.