VCU topped rival Old Dominion University 76–67 in the Stuart C. Siegel Center Saturday evening. In addition to being a darn-entertaining battle, the game was an exemplar of Will Wade basketball.
Photos by Will Weaver
Old Dominion entered Saturday’s game shooting .296 from 3-point range, but that didn’t stop the Monarchs from starting 4-of-4 from range en route to a 16-8 lead. Seniors Aaron Bacote and Trey Freeman made work of VCU’s man-to-man defense and the Rams ruined opportunities with inopportune turnovers.
But VCU switched to a 2-3 match-up zone that had a few members of the media so confused they thought it was a 1-3-11. For reference, the Rams played one meaningful possession of 2-3 zone all of last season. It was an early reminder that while this rivalry is 91 games old, Saturday was Coach Wade’s sixth game as head coach, and this team is evolving.
While the zone stopped ODU’s regal blitz, VCU demonstrated its offensive depth and balance that failed to make a showing in Manhattan. Seven players finished the game with seven-plus points. Doug Brooks was the first to strike, hitting three quick 3-pointers on three attempts igniting both the Rams’ offense and the crowd at the Stu in true Dougie Buckets style
In seasons past, Brooks’s explosion might have been all for naught, but the Rams showcased Wade’s emphasis on drawing fouls and making free-throws–a focus he used to win 18 games with a Chattanooga team he admitted “just wasn’t very talented.”
VCU went 13-of-22 (.591) last season in a 73-67 loss to ODU. Saturday, they finished the first half 9-of-10. More importantly, they hit the front end of all of their one-and-ones while ODU missed all three2. That’s a six-point swing on six possessions that enabled the Rams to enter the locker room tied at 35 despite the early deficit.
The second half was a case study in the Will Wade offense. On the first possession, the Rams fed the ball to Mo Alie-Cox. The Monarchs, who lacked a defender capable of defending him one-on-one were too slow to double-team, and Alie-Cox emphatically dunked the ball. It was the first of five straight points from VCU’s starting center.
Under Wade’s offense, the Rams have broadened their offensive toolbox beyond an over-reliance on the perimeter-oriented ball-screen offense of Coach Smart. Once ODU started throwing effective double-teams on Alie-Cox, he started passing to open 3-point shooters on the perimeter. The ball movement was precise and effective, creating opportunities that JeQuan Lewis compared to shoot around– you know, when no one is playing defense. VCU finished the game an impressive 10-of-23 (.435) from 3-point range.
On defense, VCU’s guards still struggled to keep ODU in front of them, but Mo Alie-Cox started “showing” on ball screens instead of sitting back. The change was what Coach Jeff Jones pointed to as the difference in the second half. In fact, the final 20 minutes showcased the unique combination of earth-shattering size and nimble feet that makes Mo Alie-Cox both a crucial cog for VCU and an NFL tight end prospect.
JeQuan Lewis, who was benched just two games ago, showed poise down the stretch, scoring eight of his 16 points in the final 4:04. He also finished with two rebounds, three assists, and three steals. Melvin Johnson added 13 points, Jordan Burgess finished with 12 points, and Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed finished with eight smooth points and a blocked 3-pointer.
The VCU-ODU rivalry has diminished because of conference realignment, but maybe its demise was exaggerated because ODU simply wasn’t very good before last season. Either way, Saturday was a sign of style to come, while at the same time providing one heckuva basketball experience.
- VCU playing zone and pounding the ball inside, and Old Dominion playing man-to-man and relying on guards must have been a dizzying sight for fans used to Blaine Taylor’s bruising 2-3 zone and Smart’s guard-oriented full-court free-for-all. ↩
- When a team fouls more than six times in a half, the fouled team gets to shoot free-throws whether it was a shooting foul or not. On fouls seven, eight, and nine, the team gets to attempt one free-throw. If they hit that free-throw, they get to attempt a second, so lots of emphasis is put on hitting “the front end of one-and-ones.” ↩