Wrecking balls, Dove commercials, energy charts, and Coach Smart’s ability to improve his teams over the course of a season.
It was close until halftime, but Virginia Commonwealth University blew open the game in the second half to beat Stony Brook 81-63 Friday night in the Stuart C. Siegel Center.
In March 2011, VCU went from the First Four to the Final Four while racking up five incredibly impressive wins. Coach Shaka Smart’s HAVOC! took the nation by storm, and Smart became one of the most sought after coaches in the nation. These past three seasons, Coach Smart has done something much more impressive: he has shown an incredible ability to improve his teams over the course of a season.
Forget about the preseason hype and the probably unjustified early #10 ranking. VCU is a different beast than when the season started. Briante Weber is much more poised on offense, guys like Terrance Shannon and Melvin Johnson have a much better feel for their roles, and VCU’s defense, both full-court and half-court, has been suffocating.
HAVOC! is a different beast than when it travelled to Puerto Rico. The Rams are a different beast than when they lost to Northern Iowa. For the first time all season, VCU is starting to look like a well-oiled machine. When asked if he was feeling good about where the team is halfway through the season, Briante Weber didn’t miss a beat and immediately responded, “no, we’re never satisfied.” After beating two ACC teams in eight days by 49 points, VCU looked hungry for more.
While Stony Brook struggled with turnovers, the first half showed shades of the Eastern Kentucky game as the Seawolves’ guards made play after play on offense. On defense, they packed the lane and forced VCU to settle for 3-pointers. With a few minutes remaining in the first half, Briante Weber upped the intensity level. He had six steals at halftime, and he hit a buzzer-beater to give VCU a 36-35 lead heading into the locker room.
Coming out of the tunnel before the second half, Joey Rodriguez gave Weber some “words of wisdom.” The Rams responded by doing what Briante Weber called “going after it and putting the pedal to the metal.” Once the dust settled, VCU had scored 17 straight points while holding Stony Brook scoreless for the first 6:46 of the second half.
The Rams have always had streakability when forcing turnovers, but their half-court defense has helped them accrue runs of 31 points, 17 points, and 15 points in the past two weeks while beating opponents by an average of 22.6 points. When HAVOC! starts HAVOCing and shots start falling, the Stuart C. Siegel Center feels like Carnegie Hall and the Rams look like a Beethoven Symphony.
Friday was a step in the right direction before entering the challenging Atlantic 10, but it was not an arrival. VCU is far from perfect, but far from perfect makes watching Coach Smart slowly turn the Rams into a beast all the more enjoyable.
Loudest Moment: 107 dB. With 8:51 remaining in the first half, Juvonte Reddic emphatically blocked a Jameel Warney dunk.
We have this thing called the effort chart in practice. It measures fifteen different good things you can do, and there are two negatives on there. If you have a negative number–you have to be comatose to not get something positive. All of the guys have 8, 10, 12–a good number would be 15 in a practice. “T” set an effort chart record two days ago in a practice by getting a 31 on our effort chart.Coach Smart
Early in the second half, high early season expectations became reality as Terrance Shannon affected every play on both ends of the court with energy and a 6-foot-8, 240 pound frame. He came in like a wrecking ball on defense and blocked shots, stole the ball, and had so many deflections that Stony Brook looked lost. On offense he showed off his soft touch with the two best post feeds of the night and a totally unexpected 15-foot jumper. Even when he missed a pair of shots under the basket, he outran all of the guards down the court and immediately made plays on the ball.
There was a time when those preseason expectations were a distant memory. He missed a few games for family reasons and his role was marginalized because of the emergence of Mo Alie-Cox. Some players would have packed up their bags. Terrance Shannon responded in practice like only a fifth year senior can. Coach Smart commented, “He came here to play and he wants to play more and make a bigger impact, and he can.” That impact has been noticed and it’s part of the reason VCU is much better than they were in November.
Top performer: Briante Weber
13 points, 9 assists, 0 turnovers, 7 steals, 3 rebounds, 1 block, 3-7 shooting
You ever see those Dove commercials? It’s being comfortable in his own skin. Tonight he looked comfortable in his own skin…He’s a devil on defense. I would not want to play against that guy.Coach Smart
Briante Weber was two ill-advised 3-pointers early in the first half away from a perfect game. He had six steals at halftime, he found open shooters, and his energy was undoubtedly infectious. His buzzer-beater at half time set the tone for the early second-half run that was ultimately the difference. Weber has a knack for stuffing the stat sheet, but even this line was rather crazy. One of these days, he’s going to record a triple-double.
- Briante Weber has 59 steals on the season which is more than 25 teams in the nation.
- VCU has 195 steals this season. The next closest team has 145.
- SBU entered the game ranked 25th in 3PFG% at .397. They finished the game 3-of-18 (.166)
- Treveon Graham was 0-of-4 with 4 points at halftime. He finished 6-of-12 with 20 points.
- VCU finished 2013 with a 15-1 record in the Stuart C. Siegel Center.
VCU opens conference play on Thursday, January 9th at 7:00 PM against former CAA foe George Mason. The game will be on CBS Sports Network. The last time George Mason visited the Stuart C. Siegel Center, they interupted Bradford Burgess’s senior presentation and #20 responded with 31 points.
Photos by: Will Weaver
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