Virginia Commonwealth University blew a six point lead in the final minute of regulation Friday night before losing in overtime to Stephen F. Austin, 77-75, in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament.
The last time Stephen F. Austin lost a game, VCU was in Puerto Rico. The Lumberjacks entered Friday on a 28-game winning streak, but they hadn’t played real competition in months so there were plenty of questions. They wasted no time answering those questions as their crisp offense burned VCU on play after play while shooting 60% and only turning the ball over five times in the first half and zero times in the final 12:15 of the first 20 minutes.
Trailing 36-30 at halftime, VCU came out of the locker room and did what VCU does. After falling behind 30-40 in the second half, VCU went on a 24-3 run including a 6-0 run in 27 seconds. It was a classic HAVOC! moment, and the game felt over. VCU, always the protagonist, had faced adversity and triumphed.
Unfortunately March doesn’t follow the same structure as a Tolkien novel. Instead, it’s a free-for-all that follows fewer and fewer rules every year. This was easy to forget considering VCU’s meteoric rise and wealth of rewarding March experiences.
Friday was a reminder that fans make cross country trips in March only to not see their team even win a game. It was a reminder that VCU is one of 68 respectable programs fighting to advance in a tournament that leaves grown men crying and some of the best teams on the sidelines after only 40 minutes.
VCU was cruising. With 56 seconds remaining Jordan Burgess hit a corner 3-pointer to give VCU a 65-59 lead. The game was over, only no one told Stephen F. Austin.
Jacob Parker responded with a layup and SFA quickly fouled. JeQuan Lewis went 1-of-2 from the charity stripe. Then Desmond Haymon scored and Briante Weber went 1-of-2 from the line. The Rams got a stop but Jordan Burgess missed both free-throws with 10 seconds remaining.
On the next possession, Haymon drained a 3-pointer while drawing a foul from JeQuan Lewis. 4-point play. Overtime.
Haymon would drain one more huge 3-pointer in the overtime, and the Lumberjacks would roll to a 77-75 victory. One second VCU had a ticket to the 3rd round for the fourth consecutive year. The next second, the memorable careers of Rob Brandenberg and Juvonte Reddic were over and AD Ed McLaughlin was picking JeQuan Lewis, who had just missed the game winner, up off of the ground.
Treveon Graham finished with 19 points. Freshmen Jordan Burgess and JeQuan Lewis combined for 27 points, but relying on freshmen finally took its toll against the veteran Lumberjacks.
The Burden of Expectations
Part of the reason VCU’s run to the 2011 Final Four will never be replicated, is because the expectations were so unbelievably low. After three incredible seasons largely outpacing expectations, the 2013-14 season is a reminder that the nature of expectations is to rise until they can’t be met.
This was supposed to be Coach Smart’s most talented team ever and an arrival point after an incredible rebuild. VCU quickly earned a #10 ranking after an impressive win at Virginia. Then the Rams returned to Earth–but in the past, November adversity has always been a necessary part of the first act in a VCU season. How can fans enjoy the ride to the top if they don’t start at the very bottom?
VCU entered March Madness with momentum and expectations–expectations that only make Friday’s loss hurt all the more. The ride to the perceived top is highly enjoyable, but after the top is a hard fall that leaves one nauseous and seven months away from the next VCU basketball game.
“We have a lot to work on, but we have a lot to work with.”Shaka Smart on 10/14/13
Friday was a microcosm for the arc of the season. VCU started the year with a talented, experienced core but injuries, defections, and regression left the Rams in a position where they needed 37 points from freshmen just to compete.
Players undoubtedly grew throughout the season. Friday had the silver lining of watching the future: JeQuan Lewis, Jordan Burgess, Mo Alie-Cox, and Doug Brooks succeeded, but this season started about upperclassmen.
Friday the Rams looked like a team without the veteran sledgehammer Terrance Shannon who left the program. They lacked Troy Daniels’s replacement in Melvin Johnson who was sidelined with a sprained knee. Juvonte Reddic who was expected to put up 15 PPG and 9 RPG this season finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. Jarred Guest was limited to three minutes. Senior Rob Brandenberg was limited to four points and three rebounds in 16 minutes after being plagued by fouls.
Fans are disappointed that Rob Brandenberg, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time on a few fouls, was limited to 16 minutes. People have taken their shots at Juvonte Reddic. Whether it’s on Twitter or Facebook, or at the end of the bar on game night, it’s a bizarre phenomena: strangers publicly criticizing 21-year-olds for perceived lack of effort or carelessness. Here’s what’s known:
Rob Brandenberg finishes his college career with a college degree, four NCAA Tournament births, seven wins in the big dance, a school record 111 wins, and he is in the top ten at VCU for steals and 3-pointers. Juvonte Reddic finishes his college career on pace to graduate, with four NCAA Tournament births, seven wins in the big dance, a school record 111 wins, and he is in the top ten for rebounds, blocks, steals, and double-doubles.
More importantly, Rob Brandenberg and Juvonte Reddic helped bridge the gap between the senior heavy Final Four team and the legends on the court today like Briante Weber and Treveon Graham.
VCU’s biggest challenge was keeping 2011 from being a flash in the pan after losing Jamie Skeen, Joey Rodriguez, Brandon Rozzell, Ed Nixon, and Toby Veal. The two helped build a culture of excellence in the shadow of greatness en route to a VCU-record 29 wins in 2012. Every post-Final Four win from this day forward will be realized on top of an important foundation built by two of VCU’s most important people.
- It took 27:21 for VCU to attempt its first free-throw.
- Briante Weber recorded six steals and finishes the season with an incredible 121 thefts. He is now 89 short of the NCAA record.
- The Rams finished the night with an eFG% of .591. Their season average was .479.
- Rob Brandenberg finishes his career with just five turnovers in his last 341 minutes of game play.
- Briante Weber finished with five points, eight assists, six steals, five rebounds, and two turnovers.
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