RICHMOND, Va. – VCU had been so effective during its eight-game win streak that the Rams hadn’t played a close game since November. Everything worked. They were turning the opposition over at obscene rates, bombing away from beyond the 3-point line, rebounding effectively, you name it. The only edges the Rams weren’t able to sand smooth were the ones that dictate how to win close games.
But Saturday, as uneasy as it was to sweat out a close one, the Rams got the chance to see how they’d respond when everything didn’t go their way, when they had to make plays down the stretch. So sue them if the 59-55 win over gritty Lehigh wasn’t a cruise-control special, but it was probably a necessary evil.
It’s been an all-or-nothing proposition for VCU. Its previous 11 wins had all come by double figures, while its three losses were all by 10 points or less. In losses to Wichita State and Missouri, the games were decided by a single possession. That’s one stop, one bucket when it counts, a couple of free throws under duress.
There wasn’t much left for VCU to gain from another lob-sided win. Sure, everybody enjoyed the Rams’ 51-point pasting of East Tennessee earlier this week, but what Shaka Smart needed to know was how his team would respond in critical moments, when the game was on the line. This time around, the Rams answered the call. With the VCU’s first foray into Atlantic 10 Conference beginning Wednesday against Dayton, Smart had to find out if his team was ready for white-knuckle moments.