The Rams are now in first place in the Atlantic 10, and they did it by seizing some great opportunities. Hopefully, that’s a trend we’ll keep seeing.
Photos by Will Weaver.
VCU topped cross-town rival Richmond 87-74 Friday night in the Stuart C. Siegel Center. The Rams executed one of their best offensive performances of the season driven by opportunity-seizing contributions off of the bench by Justin Tillman and Jordan Burgess. On Sunday, a new opportunity presented itself as #15 Dayton and Saint Joseph’s both lost, which cedes sole possession of first place to the Rams.
There are lots of cliches about opportunity. Most of them skip over the most import part: execution. VCU has been preparing hard in the film room and gym, and it’s certainly put itself in a place where lots of consequential things are happening, but none of that matters without execution. On Friday they executed, and moving forward, they will need to continue executing if they hope to win VCU’s first regular season title since 2009.
Before VCU even took the court against Richmond, a student seized opportunity when he hit a layup, a free-throw, a 3-pointer, and a half-court shot in only five attempts to win 7,637 fans free pizza. The prolific Papa Johns shootout performance even interrupted VCU’s pregame huddle– but sometimes inspiration is more important than last second reminders about the game plan.
Maybe it was that inspiration or extra hard work in the gym, but Justin Tillman seized opportunity. His minutes have been limited since VCU’s loss to George Washington. On Friday he had three dunks in the first five minutes and 15 points in the first half. His fourth bucket came on a beautiful shot off of the backboard that showcased a never-before-seen dimension of his face-up game. More good things are surely to come.
Jordan Burgess also seized opportunity. His role has diminished this season, particularly after missing six games during VCU’s 9-0 start in conference play. On Friday, he hit three 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 14 points (1-1 2PFG, 4-5 3PFG), five rebounds, two assists, and a steal. He was 0-of-8 from 3-point range in the 2016 calendar year and 9-of-40 (.225) on the season.
Jordan Burgess was huge for us. That’s what happens when you keep working. You work yourself out of slumps and you make things happen. You gotta make it happen. No one is going to do it for you. He gets in there every morning at 6:30 or 7:00 AM and works out and shoots. He stays after practice and works out and shoots. Coach Wade
The extra spark off the bench was the difference for VCU as they scored an incendiary 1.28 points per possession. Melvin Johnson (22), Justin Tillman (15), Jordan Burgess (14), JeQuan Lewis (13), and Mo Alie-Cox (12) all finished in double figures, and the Rams shot 24-of-44 from 2-point range, 11-of-22 from 3-point range, and 6-of-6 from the free-throw line. Furthermore, VCU rebounded 15 of their 31 missed shots. The only thing keeping them from dropping a century on the Spiders was 14 turnovers.
Friday’s win put the pressure on #15 Dayton and Saint Joseph’s who were both effectively tied with VCU for first place in the Atlantic 10. Dayton was the first to fall, courtesy of 31 points, six rebounds, six assists, and two steals from St. Bonaventure sophomore Jaylen Adams. After starting the season 21-3, the Flyers have dropped two games in one week and still have games against URI, UR, and VCU. Two hours later, Saint Joseph’s fell 99-93 to Davidson, due to 35 points from scoring sensation Jack Gibbs.
Saturday was as good a day as VCU could have without even playing a game. The Rams are back in sole possession of first place in the conference. Four games stand between Coach Wade and something Coach Smart was never able to do–win the conference and earn a #1 seed in a conference tournament. The Rams have an opportunity, now comes the tricky part: execution.