Recap: UD tops VCU, maybe it’s time to light something on fire

#22 Virginia Commonwealth University dropped its fifth game in the last nine with a 59–55 loss to Dayton Saturday afternoon in the Stuart C. Siegel Center.


Despite abundant missed open looks, uncharacteristic turnovers from sloppy passing, mistakes in transition, and the absence of Briante Weber, who is recovering from surgery, VCU was still in striking distance in the final minutes against a first place team in the Atlantic 10.

The Rams trailed by as many as eight points in the second half, but a Treveon Graham free-throw cut the deficit to 57-55 with 58 seconds remaining. The Rams picked up a stop on defense at the 28-second mark but elected to slow down the game.

Without running much offense, Treveon Graham hoisted a 3-pointer several feet beyond the arc with 10 seconds remaining. The shot clanked out but Mo Alie-Cox muscled for an offensive rebound and put up a layup to tie the game. The “rushed” shot went wide off the glass and the game was effectively over.

Treveon Graham finished with 12 points (3-6 2PFG, 1-8 3PFG, 3-5 FT) and six rebounds. Melvin Johnson added eight points (1-2 2PFG, 2-4 3PFG) and two steals.

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The sequence raises the question of why VCU took a non-committal approach to the final 28 seconds. At home facing a 2-point deficit, the Rams should have committed to maximizing the number of possessions or holding the shot until the final seconds.

Instead, VCU wasted clock, ran no offense, and went for the win. Statistically, VCU settled for the lowest percentage shot with the fewest repetitions to overcome variance. The Rams would have been better served by trying to score two points quickly. The worst case scenario would have been a four-point deficit with 15-20 seconds on the clock and endless permutations of steals, lay-ups, and 3-pointers to spell “victory.”

Even if Graham’s shot had fallen, Dayton would have had roughly ten seconds to try to overcome a one-point deficit.

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VCU entered the season with plenty of hype, and while the Rams are now short one irreplaceable Briante Weber, HAVOC! still oozes with potential. But with each passing loss, an opportunity is missed to tap into that potential. The Rams have lost five of their last nine games and now trail Dayton, Davidson, and Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10.

The last time Coach Smart went through a stretch like this was in 2011, when VCU lost five of eight games to end the regular season. Of course, in March 2011, Coach Smart burned a calendar and VCU sprinted to the Final Four with unmatched urgency. Maybe it’s time to light something on fire. The February page of the 2015 calendar would be a good place to start.

Process vs. Results

Coach Shaka Smart’s meteoric rise from unearthed Richmond treasure to household name was driven by his commitment to process-based coaching that turned a season on the brink into a Final Four. It’s easy to dwell on outcomes, but Saturday needs to be remembered with a careful distinction between process and results.

There were failures on both levels. During one stretch, VCU found three amazing looks from 3-point range in a row for Treveon Graham. All three missed. Not much can be gained from dwelling on missed quality shots.

On the other hand, VCU failed to capitalize on four fast-break opportunities. Compounding the errors, Dayton scored after all four missed shots creating a swing of 17 points. With 3:30 remaining, Melvin Johnson missed a fast-break dunk that would have given VCU a one-point lead. Instead, it turned into a three-point hole. If he had decided to lay-in the ball, the entire dynamic of the game would have been different. That’s a failure of process that leaves the coaching staff in the unenviable position of trying to reconcile good decision-making with ACL (Aggressive, Confident, Loose) basketball.

It’s easy to get lost in the volumes of positive articles in the bubble of VCU basketball media. It’s easy to feel like VCU is perpetually one game away from unlocking that elusive stash of direct deposits from the unique experiences they’ve gained from close losses or a roster-sized rotation. That’s not necessarily reality. VCU could finish fifth in the Atlantic 10 and fold in the month of March.

At the same time, few coaches are better equipped for this scenario than Coach Smart and his commitment to positivity and process-based coaching. For the last two years, his quote from the 2013 Black and Gold Tip-Off has never stopped ringing true, “We have a lot to work on, but a lot to work with.”

The Fan Condition

All of this cuts to the core of the absurdity of college basketball and the reality of the Fan Condition. If Johnson completes the dunk, or Graham’s 3-pointer is one centimeter different, or Alie-Cox doesn’t rush his final shot, then VCU triumphs and HAVOC! reassumes its mantle of near infallibility.

There is a poetic dissonance to the origin of the word fan. Somehow the zeal of fanaticism, usually reserved for religion or politics, enters and directs our daily lives, all because a man named James Naismith invented the sport of basketball.

It’s a curious thing: if the outcome of one action by a young man between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two should change, then grown men and women will bask in the euphoria of victory instead of trudge to the bar to drown sorrows or slink home to binge-watch House of Cards on Netflix as a means to ignore emptiness. This is the Fan Condition. And bizarre or not, it is our lot.

Top performer: Mo Alie-Cox

12 points (3-6 FG, 6-8 FT), 10 rebounds, two blocks, one steal, and one turnover

He had five points and four rebounds in the first 4:30 and was the Rams’ most consistent player all afternoon. It’s easy to focus on his missed layup at the end of the game, but he would not have gotten the opportunity without a man-sized rebound that also gave him his first career double-double. Deep in a month of uncharacteristic struggles, his maturation is a bright spot.

5 stats

  • Saturday was Coach Smart’s first loss to a team from the state of Ohio. He was previously 8-0 against teams from the Buckeye state.
  • VCU went 7-0 last season against teams they’ve lost to this season. This season, they’ve gone 8-0 against teams they lost to last season.
  • Dayton’s Jordan Sibert scored 15 first-half points. In the second half, he scored four points and didn’t have a field goal.
  • Jordan Burgess and Terry Larrier are a combined 9-of-58 (.155) from 3-point range over the last nine games.
  • VCU finished with zero fast-break points.

Looking forward

VCU travels to Davidson on Thursday at 9:00 PM. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU. The Wildcats have won seven straight.

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Aaron Williams

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

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