Recap: George Mason, the jitters, and the process

VCU opened conference play against GMU on Thursday night. The box score may not look impressive, but the Rams adhered to the process while winning their fifth consecutive game.

VCU-GMU-Featured

It wasn’t pretty, but Virginia Commonwealth University outlasted George Mason 71-57 in the Stuart C. Siegel Center Thursday night.

Recap

The first half we were kind of tight–the first A10 game, we had to get the jitters out. The second half we just let loose and played VCU basketball, and it took a toll on them.Briante Weber

There are two big ways to judge a team: based on results and based on adherence to and execution of the process. Based on shooting percentages and the final score, Thursday was underwhelming. Based on adherence to and execution of the process, Thursday was the same kind of dominance the Rams have shown over the previous three games.

Through the first pair of lenses, it’s easy to dwell on VCU’s 20-of-59 shooting and .364 eFG%. It’s easy to say the Rams should have won by more than 14 points in such a favorable matchup.

Looking deepler and from a different perspective, VCU adhered to the process of HAVOC! and played with a level of energy that can’t be topped by any team in the nation. If one play sums it all up, it’s Briante Weber‘s ridiculous steal with 45 seconds remaining when VCU led by 14 points. I challenge anyone to find another college basketball player in the nation who makes this play in that situation:

The Rams did plenty of things well. At first they struggled keeping George Mason’s guards in front of them, but they made adjustments and dominated in the second half. Jordan Burgess ate Sherrod Wright’s lunch at times. Terrance Shannon encored his performance of “Wrecking Ball.” VCU got good shots at the rim that didn’t seem to fall, and they corralled offensive rebounds with abandon.

Three or four of the dozen shots that rimmed in and out or missed by a centimeter go in and all of sudden VCU wins by 25 points, and everyone is freaking out about VCU. That’s basketball. That’s variance. That’s why successful programs are based on more consistent things like defense, and it’s comforting having a coach who is focused on the process and not the absolutes of results–especially in a get-out-the-jitters conference opening game.

There are reasons to be a little concerned. VCU doesn’t put the ball in the basket as consistently as last season, especially inside the arc. There is merit to this concern, but there are also a few things to keep in mind. VCU played an easier non-conference schedule last year which included a few stat inflating games like Longwood and East Tennessee State University.

Past shooting percentages aren’t a very good indicator of whether the 13-3 2014 Rams will have more or less success than the 13-3 2013 Rams in crunch time against good teams like Saint Louis and Massachusetts with the conference title on the line. This team has the tools to be more successful on offense than last year’s team.

The 2011 team sometimes struggled on offense, but one time, when push came to shove, they scored 1.42 points per possession on Purdue, the 20th best defense in the country. VCU history suggests that consistent energy and defense with inconsistent offensive potential is a really good formula for winning.

Furthermore, at this point in the season this team has much more room for improvement than last year’s team. How good will VCU be when Jordan Burgess’s two pointers start falling? How good will VCU be when JeQuan Lewis takes that next step on defense?

The last five VCU-GMU games have been incredibly memorable:

  1. GMU handles VCU 71-51 in the Stu.
  2. Three weeks later VCU dismantles GMU 79-63.
  3. Sherrod Wright hits the Valentine’s Day heartbreaker.
  4. GMU interrupts senior festivities, and Bradford Burgess responds with 31 points.
  5. The 22-0/32-4 game.

Thursday night on the other hand will quickly fade in the collective memory of Ram Nation. Here are the three things to remember:

  1. VCU got plenty of good looks and a freakish amount didn’t drop.
  2. After struggling to stop GMU’s guards in the first half, VCU limited the Patriots to .241 shootings and 23 points in the second half.
  3. That Terrance Shannon put-back jam.

Loudest Moment: 109 dB. With 15:49 remaining in the second half, Terrance Shannon took to the sky, corralled a missed shot, and nearly broke the rim–and 15,482 eardrums.

Top performer: Terrance Shannon

15 minutes, 7 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 turnover, 2 blocks, 1 steal

Terrance Shannon is the only player in Black & Gold that can give the floor-diving, HAVOC!-wreaking Briante Weber a run for his money on the energy scale. He wasn’t really the top performer, and he wasn’t the most productive, but Shannon played 15 of the most quality minutes of the night.

His put-back dunk was the most exciting moment of the game, and one of his two blocks was ovation worthy, but his subtle “glue-guy” plays are what are earning him minutes. Like the Stony Brook game, his defensive presence was felt as he blocked two shots, grabbed a steal, man-handled a rebound away from George Mason, and just defended the paint with a sense of purpose.

He also led the team with three assists and he has the three best post-feeds in the last two games. In just two games, Shannon has transformed himself from maybe a disappointment to maybe outpacing expectations.

5 stats

  • 16 games into the season, Briante Weber’s 64 steals already ranks 9th all-time on the VCU single-season steals list.
  • Weber passed Darius Theus (237) and Joey Rodriguez (237) to move into 2nd all-time at VCU on the career steals list. He is 18 behind #1 Rolando Lamb.
  • VCU’s turnover differential during their first eleven games was +6. VCU’s turnover differential during their current five game winning streak is +12.8.
  • George Mason scored 26 points in the paint in the first half. The Patriots scored 23 total points in the second half.
  • VCU has won 14 straight home games; a streak that dates back to 1/26/2013

Looking forward

VCU looks to move to 2-0 in the Atlantic 10 on Tuesday when they visit George Washington. The Colonials have greatly outpaced expectations and the game should be a good measuring stick as to where the Rams fit into the A-10.

Photos by: Will Weaver

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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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