VCU 85, St. Joseph’s 82: A Gutty Roadie Victory. But How?…
“Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality.”
I catch crap, a lot of it sometimes, and sometimes rightfully so, for remaining relentlessly positive about this team. But every now and then we all get a dose of those reasons. We saw, last night, many of the reasons I remained bullish on this team and this coaching staff, even when they were 5-5.
VCU was outshot from the field (46% to 44%), out rebounded (46-40), out assisted (18-13), and really out everythinged in the boxscore. Yet won the game.
How? How on God’s Green Earth did VCU pick up a huge road win against a quality team to go to 2-0, 10-5?
“They never flinched,” said Will Wade postgame. “The bench, the staff, the players on the floor.”
One big reason is this coaching staff’s ability to map a basketball game. What I mean by that is different than the concept of adjustments. It’s the conglomeration of tactical adjustments as part of a strategy.
Saint Joseph’s made it easy to see how they were going to defend VCU last night–double the post, force a pass to the wing to anybody not named Johnson, and dare the others to beat you.
For awhile, it seemed to be working. VCU hoisted 16 first half threes, and a season high 33 by the time buzzer sounded. Wade had The Melvin stationed in the weak side corner in the first half and Johnson had a few good looks when the ball was fed out of the post. So that the Hawks defenders could not sit on him there, Wade moved Johnson to the wing in the middle part of the game and put either Jordan Burgess or JeQuan Lewis there–both of them had open looks as well.
Let’s fast-forward to the latter stages of the game with that approach in mind. The Melvin had buried four second-half threes, and Lewis made St. Joseph’s pay the price as well.
The teams came out of the under-four media timeout, and on VCUs first possession Doug Brooks swished a three to cut the St. Joe’s lead to 75-70 with about three minutes to play. And that’s when Wade made the final adjustment of his game-mapping strategy.
The Melvin was dispatched back to the weak side corner, and Phil Martelli had a choice to make. His team was nursing a two-possession lead, and his opponent had made six three-pointers in the half. Johnson alone had scored 17 of VCUs 20 points in an eight-minute stretch that kept the Rams within striking distance.
I’m not smart enough to say what Martelli should or should not have done, nor what is right and what is wrong. But I know Wade forced him to make a choice–a nuclear Melvin Johnson getting a good look from three, or single coverage on Mo Alie-Cox in the post.
Martelli called off the double-team to avoid giving VCU a three. I can’t say I’d choose differently. And Cox, with single coverage, ate Saint Joseph’s for dinner. There were five VCU possessions from the 3:00 mark to the 1:00 mark, and Alie-Cox scored 10 straight points in those five possessions.
“Players make plays,” said Wade when pressed on the strategy. “Mo has improved so much this year with that move, I was fully confident in him.”
Mapping. You do things to make he other guy adjust, so that you can then do other things you already know you want to do. Yeah, that doesn’t make much sense, but neither did the first 36 minutes of last night’s weird game.
But all that considered, VCU won. End of story.
Does getting the ball to rim matter? Does protecting the rim matter? It did last night.
VCU was plus 10 at the half with points scored in the paint (16-6). Saint Joseph’s went on that big run and evened up points in the paint (26-26). The final 10 points in the paint were scored by VCU. The Rams galloped home on a 28-12 run over the final 7:11.
That’s all related.
I will again beat the JeQuan Lewis drum. Yes, his 19 points, six assists, and six rebounds is impressive, but his impact on everyone matters. Everybody plays with a greater sense of freedom on the floor with Lewis. VCU has three straight games with eight or fewer total turnovers. Lewis has 22 assists and only seven turnovers in those three games.
That’s also related.
Last night’s win was important for all the reasons: tough roadie, gritty performance, big comeback in adverse conditions, tiebreaker for Brooklyn, momentum, etc.
However possibly the most important reason–the coaching staff has plenty of, well, let’s call them teaching moments to review with the team. VCU was able to win and I think I had a season high for number of times I shook my fist in the air and had the look on my face like I’d just seen a ghost.