Man, that was fun.
VCU played to its identity–The Velvet Steamroller, more on that later–better than anytime this season against a high quality opponent. The Rams pounded the paint for 46 points and snared 18 offensive rebounds, scoring 29 points in the final 10 minutes against the nation’s 10th-best defensive team, and burned the midnight oil in a 73-68 win.
It was a spirit-lifting win, a view into what-can-be. It’s one thing to pound Asheville. It’s another to thump UMass, and even LaSalle. Dayton is another story. The Flyers were 6-1, atop the A10 for the simple reason that they were its best team.
Quite simply, the Rams did VCU Things at a high level. They did not do Early Season VCU Things like turn the ball over in head-scratching manner. Will Wade said in the postgame press conference that the team hit all five of its goals for the second straight game.
In Justin Tillman’s words: “You can’t take plays off. You’ve got to go hard the whole game. Small details like that are things that win games.”
Big games, too. Spirit-lifting.
It didn’t start that way. Dayton came out, cough-cough, flying. They surgically cut to space and made several layups. Scoochie Smith, who has been playing point guard for Dayton since the Reagan administration, was carving up the VCU defense.
And then one of those details plays happened. Smith had propelled Dayton to a 29-21 lead with a nifty drop pass to Kendall Pollard for a dunk. After JeQuan Lewis missed a three, Smith started into the front court, where Doug Brooks jumped in front of Smith, drawing the charge. Smith went to the bench with his second foul.
Another Pollard dunk got he lead to 31-21, but the Dayton offense ground to a halt. VCU dug in, and kept feeding the paint.
Dayton was not the same. The Flyers didn’t hit a field goal the last five minutes of the half with Smith on the bench, and a 10-point deficit was two after Marquell Fraser stepped off the bench, boxed out Pollard to draw a foul, and hit two free throws before disappearing back to the bench.
I’ll be honest: I felt lucky to be down by two at the half. I also felt comfortable–I’m not sure many coaches get more out of those 15 minutes in the locker room than Wade. You knew adjustments were coming. And they did.
With those drive-shaft tweaks to the velvet steamroller, the Rams eventually wore down Dayton, a 17-4 spree from about the nine-minute mark to the two-minute mark providing the margin.
(Side note: do steamrollers have drive shafts? What exactly is a drive shaft?)
(Side note, 2: Malik Crowfield picked up a charge on Charles Cooke during the run, the fourth on Dayton’s most explosive player. That was a huge moment. It was a different-looking Malik Crowfield last night. He wasn’t trying to avoid making mistakes; rather, Crowfield played freely, just played basketball. That’s a huge step forward for the freshman.)
Smith had six points and five assists in 12 first half minutes. He had four points and two assists in 19 second half minutes. Adjustments.
VCU grabbed an astounding 53% of its misses, scoring 73 points despite making just two of 15 threes. That’s because they kept pounding the paint, mauling the rim. In all, there were 46 points scored in the paint.
In fact, VCU made 19 free throws and hit two threes along with the 46 paint points. That’s 71 of the 73 points–meaning the Rams made one jump shot–the least efficient shot in basketball.
This is the identity, different than we’re used to seeing on Broad Street. VCU is 11-0 this season when scoring 40 or more points in the paint, and 13-0 when 35 or or more.
The best part for me? Talking with Wade postgame, it was clear he was very happy, but he was in no mood to be very happy. His team saw how you have to win big games against tough teams in the A10. They have a reference.
But Wade knows those margins (thin) and those pesky details (elusive) can change it all, beginning Wednesday. I’m sure he will let the guys enjoy their success today, maybe even tomorrow. But with Monday comes the need to put the hard hat back on, and crank up the steamroller once again.
About these paint points…
In 10 of the 12 wins in last year’s huge streak, VCU scored 38 or more points in the paint. There were 46 in the Oregon State win.
You are seeing a change. That’s who we are under Will Wade. Through 21 games this year, VCU has scored 37 or more points in the paint more times than in any other season since 2005-06 except 2009-10 (13), and Wade’s first campaign (19).
The chart below shows you what’s happening. VCU is not overwhelming teams with a frenetic pace, but it’s getting the same results by exhausting opponents another way–the Velvet Steamroller:
Make some noise if you’re down with me. Here we go now. If you don’t understand me, let me clear my throat: