RICHMOND, Va. – If VCU learned anything in Tuesday night’s nail-biting 53-51 loss to Wichita State, it’s that the Rams are not yet a finished product.
Look, the Shockers deserved to win. They suffocated VCU with intense, post-season quality defense in an intense, post-season quality match-up. There were fewer open looks at the basket than there are music videos on MTV these days. The Rams were frustrated on offense. Wichita State outscored VCU (1-1) in the paint 30-12 and neutralized its “Havoc” defense. The Shockers (2-0) turned the ball over just 13 times, and the Rams scored just nine points off those miscues, an area critical to their success.
“I give Wichita State a lot of credit. They came in here and battled. They hung in there throughout the game and did a good job dealing with the crowd and the press. They were ready to go and they were certainly not scared,” said VCU Coach Shaka Smart.
Okay, maybe there was a missed goaltending call on Juvonte Reddic’s drive to the basket with .5 seconds remaining. Maybe it wasn’t, maybe it was, but even if you assume a blown call, it still doesn’t wash away VCU’s shortcomings.
No, the real culprits behind the Rams’ loss to the Shockers were the Rams themselves. VCU shot 35 percent (17-of-49) from the floor and turned the ball over 14 times. VCU had just five second-chance points all night. Yes, Wichita State was great defensively, but that’s only part of it. There’s nobody guarding you at the free throw line, but the Rams were 12-of-24 from there, including several critical misses down the stretch.
“As for us, it was a disappointing game for me as a coach and for our players because we weren’t on edge,” Smart said. “We weren’t at our best in terms of the intangibles of the game that make us good. It’s a valuable lesson to learn, but it’s a tough lesson to learn anytime you lose a game that way. ”
Senior captain Darius Theus, who finished with 15 points, acknowledged that VCU has work to do.
“We’ve got to demand more out of each other,” he said. “This is a tough loss for us. We’ve got to do better.”
There were plenty of rough performances to lament. Treveon Graham battled early foul trouble and never got on track. He finished 1-of-7 from the field in 21 minutes. Briante Weber, who was electrifying in VCU’s season-opening win over Florida Gulf Coast, was a non-factor Tuesday and finished scoreless with four turnovers and zero steals. The list goes on. Even Juvonte Reddic, who filled up the stat sheet with 22 points and 10 rebounds, wasn’t outside Smart’s realm of displeasure.
“I didn’t think he played so well,” Smart said. “He didn’t play bad. He certainly made some shots and made plays. Without his points, you know, we’d certainly struggle to get into the 50s, but overall, Ju, just like most of our other guys, was not on edge, and he needs to be more alert and more aggressive, and a lot of times he is. I don’t really judge his game by his numbers. Certainly I’ll take 22 and 10, that’s what he got, but there were a lot of other plays that he and his teammates could have made better.”
Don’t assume Smart is piling on, because he wasn’t happy with Shaka Smart, either.
“I put that on myself because we need to do a better job of having our guys breathing fire when they come out,” he said.
But before you hammer the panic button or sound the alarms, understand that if you’re going to learn lessons, it’s better to do them in November than in March. Also, you may notice the familiarity of this environment, the markers of these events. A VCU team, playing at home, loses a grind-it-out thriller to a no-nonsense defensive squad with something to prove.
On Jan. 4 of last season, the Rams dropped a 55-53 decision to Georgia State at the Siegel Center. It felt like a kick to the chest at the time, just as the 64-58 loss to Drexel did a few days later. But after Jan. 8, the Rams won 18 of their last 20. This game looked and felt a lot like that Georgia State game: Havoc, unchaotic. VCU’s offense, unproductive.
Whether or not the practices and the film sessions and the teachable moments produce the same outcome remains to be seen, but Smart does have a good track record in these types of situations (see also: March, 2011). Sometimes teams can learn a lot from losing. Smart hopes that’s the case, anyway.
“I’m far from glad that we lost, but it’s definitely a lesson that, if we can heed the lesson, then we’ll get better,” he said.
DANIELS’ STATUS UNCLEAR
Smart said after the game that he had not yet talked with Athletic Trainer Eddie Benion about the status of Troy Daniels’ right ankle. Daniels was injured in the second half when he stepped on Weber’s foot while tracking down an offensive rebound. Although he could not say for sure, Smart guessed that Daniels would be back “relatively soon.” Theus was even more confident. “He’s fine,” he said.
VCU and Wichita State have produced three thrilling basketball games the last three seasons. The Rams wins in the first two games in the series, while Wichita State exacted some revenge Tuesday night. All three games have been decided by three points or less.
But whether or not this budding rivalry continues is up in the air. As of right now, there are no more VCU-Wichita State games scheduled for the future. In truth, VCU and Wichita State didn’t technically schedule the last three games, either. Tuesday was the contractually obligated return game from the ESPN BracketBusters match-up of 2011, while the 2012 contest was an NCAA Tournament Round of 64 tilt in Portland, Ore.
Wichita State Coach Gregg Marshall said Tuesday he’s open to the possibility of an ecore.
“It’s something Shaka and I can discuss,” Marshall said. “Somebody asked me the other day if this was a rivalry. I said it wasn’t a rivalry until we win one.”
ODDS AND ENDS
VCU may wreak havoc on many opponents, but Wichita State historically hasn’t been one of them. The Shockers have been pretty sound against the Rams’ press. On Tuesday, Wichita State turned the ball over 13 times. In the NCAA Tournament in March, the Shockers coughed it up on 12 occasions. In 2011 in a BracketBusters game, the Shockers turned it over just 10 times. VCU led the nation in steals and turnover margin last season… VCU’s last three losses have come by a total of five points… The Rams announced their 20th consecutive sellout at the Verizon Wireless Arena Tuesday. That streak dates back to the 2010-11 season.