#20 Virginia Commonwealth University lost 74-69 to La Salle in double overtime on Wednesday night. The Rams have lost three of their last four including two in the Siegel Center where they were 18-1 in Atlantic 10 games prior to losing to Richmond.
After three conference meetings, VCU-La Salle is reaching the point where it needs to be referred to as VCU-LA SALLE!. The Explorers topped the Rams in dramatic fashion in the Siegel Center in 2013. The series has since encored that game with back-to-back double-overtime battles.
Wednesday was far from a case study in efficient offense. VCU didn’t make a field goal in the final 5:38 of regulation but Melvin Johnson hit a pair of free-throws to give VCU a 54-51 lead with 3:35 remaining. Jordan Price, who finished with 34 points (5-12 2PFG, 5-10 3PFG, 9-10 FTs), 18 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 turnovers, hit a 3-pointer off of an offensive rebound with 33 seconds remaining. Melvin Johnson missed an open jumper at the buzzer and Jordan Burgess’s put-back attempt missed.
JeQuan Lewis was electric in overtime as he scored 15 of VCU’s 16 points despite battling cramps. He went a perfect 6-of-6 from the charity stripe in the first overtime and was riding 19 consecutive made free-throws before missing one in the second overtime.
Attrition was ultimately VCU’s downfall. The Rams struggled to limit penetration after regulation expired as JeQuan Lewis battled cramps, Jordan Burgess battled an ankle injury, and Mo Alie-Cox battled cramps. Burgess, VCU’s best wing defender, was the biggest loss. His mark, Jordan Price scored all twelve points in the second overtime as Burgess struggled to contain him or Terry Larrier struggled to contain him when Burgess sat on the bench.
It’s tempting to write a stock article about heart and how all of these close losses will act as deposits for future wins. That’s not how it works and there’s already a surplus of those articles from earlier losses. If close losses fueled teams, then 2013-14 George Mason would have won the Atlantic 10 Tournament and talented freshmen Jalen Jenkins and Marquise Moore would have been Co-MVPs. Experience will unquestionably help guys like Justin Tillman and Terry Larrier, but at this point VCU has bigger issues.
First off, tip of the horns to Coach Dr. John Giannini. The Explorers executed their strategy very well. Minutes prior to tip-off, he was yelling at players as they practiced their strategy for handling HAVOC! on the court in front of waiting fans. They were effective at avoiding mistakes against the full-court press and when they made mistakes, they limited the consequences by not allowing defense to turn into offense. VCU forced 17 turnovers and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds but the Rams only scored 2 fast-break points and 5 second-chance points.
The truth is, VCU isn’t good right now for a bevy of understandable reasons. For starters, the Rams are missing their two most important players, Briante Weber and Treveon Graham, because of injuries. Weber is done for the season. Graham warmed up but did not play.
Their best remaining player, Melvin Johnson, is in a tough shooting slump. Since going 6-of-7 from 3-point range against St. Joseph’s, he’s 13-of-47 from range in the last eight games. Jordan Burgess’s struggles are also heartbreaking. He was 20-of-31 (.645) from 2-point range and 13-of-36 (.361) from 3-point range in the non-conference slate. Since then, he’s 6-of-24 (.250) from 2-point range and 6-of-30 (.200) from 3-point range.
The absence of Graham is likely the most taxing factor because it forces VCU into a crisis of identity. Either the Rams go big and sacrifice their perimeter punch, like they did early in the game when Justin Tillman picked up his first career start, or they go small and lose their ability to defend the paint. Fortunately, Graham will return and slumps will end. VCU will be better, but every day that passes adds an extra ounce of urgency.
On an optimistic note, VCU is still tied for first place despite losing three of four games because of the absurd results on Wednesday. Duquesne topped George Washington by 16 points, Saint Joseph’s squeaked by Rhode Island, and UMass topped St. Bonaventure. Dayton, VCU, Rhode Island, and UMass are now in a four way tie for first place in the Atlantic 10.
Top performer: JeQuan Lewis
26 points (5-10 2PFG, 2-6 3PFG, 10-11 FT), 1 rebound, 3 assists, 1 steal
Tonight, all game long he was the one guy that played with a level of fluidity on offense.Coach Smart
After posting 14 points, 6 assists, 0 turnovers, and 4 steals against St. Bonaventure on Saturday, Lewis picked up where he left off as VCU’s best player. He posted a career-high 26 points and was unbelievable in overtime. If Treveon Graham returns healthy and Melvin Johnson gets his stroke back, then VCU’s offense may leapfrog good while going from mediocre to excellent.
- Before losing to Richmond, VCU was 18-1 at home in Atlantic 10 games. La Salle is 2-0 in the Siegel Center.
- Coach Smart is 25-15 (.625) in February and 130-37 (.778) in all other months.
- VCU is 6-of-43 (.140) from 3-point range in its last two home games.
- Jarred Guest played his first minute after sitting 49 minutes and 15.1 seconds.
- Since the 2012-13 season, six players have scored 30+ points on VCU. Three are from La Salle: Ramon Galloway (31), Tyrone Garland (30), and Jordan Price (34).
VCU will look to regroup in a difficult road game at George Washington on Saturday at 2:00 PM. The game will be broadcast on ESPN 2.
— ∮∮∮ —
— ∮∮∮ —