NORFOLK, Va. –Scott Day was at lunch this summer when the call came in from Shaka Smart. The VCU coach wanted to ask his sports information director, “what was the school record for 3-pointers in a game?”
Day didn’t have to look up the answer; it wasn’t the first time Smart had asked this question. “Eight”, he told the Rams’ fourth-year coach.
“Troy will get that this year,” Smart said, referring to senior shooting guard Troy Daniels.
In the moment, it was clear that Smart’s insistence over the years that Daniels was an elite shooter – the best he’s ever coached, he said – wasn’t some calculated pressroom creation or public coaching ploy to prop up his senior’s confidence. He believed every word of it.
Friday, Daniels rewarded Smart for his faith when he tied Bo Jones’ 13-year-old school record with eight 3-pointers in the Rams’ 83-70 win at Old Dominion. Daniels hit eight of his first 10 from long range and finished 8-of-13 from that distance. He scored a career-high 24 points.
It’s probably not fair to watch Daniels hit a school-record 94 three-pointers last year and still expect more, but many observers did. But Smart’s steadfast endorsements of Daniels’ marksmanship in practice foretold of nights when he could break an opponent’s back with a series of long range bombs, of nights when he’d hit six, seven, eight 3-pointers and leave opposing coaches with nothing left but to tip their caps. Friday was one of those nights.
It came at a perfect time for VCU and a perfect time for Daniels.
Smart needed a “zone buster” to combat Old Dominion’s signature defense, a guy that could find the open spaces and knock down 3-pointers, a guy like Troy Daniels. The Roanoke native hit 6-of-8 triples in the first half alone to stake the Rams to a 13-point halftime lead. Each time the Monarchs positioned themselves to make a run, Daniels had a dagger.
“He’s a good shooter, and if teams want to play zone against us, he’s going to get open and what we’re going to do is work the ball around and try find him in the corners and on the wings, and ODU played a lot of zone early in the game, and we were able to find him,” Smart said.
In VCU’s previous four games, Daniels was 8-of-30 (.267) from beyond the arc. But he scored the game’s first points on a 3-pointer 17 seconds in and never looked back. After missing his second try, Daniels buried 5-of-6 to help the Rams build a 41-21 lead.
“I was just following the process no matter what defense they were playing,” Daniels said. “Just shooting it the right way, and I knew my teammates were going to find me if I was open, so I had to be ready to shoot it, and I was.”
To combat his recent slump, Daniels says he participated in extra shooting drills every night after practice this week, including a couple of late-night, solo sessions to help him reset mentally.
“Just to clear my head,” he said. “Sometimes when you play with stuff in your head you have to refocus, so that’s what I did.”
Daniels also says he wanted to work on what Smart calls “honoring the process”, which is a way of saying, do the right things, and the results will come, eventually. For Daniels, it meant reminding himself to be ready to shoot when the ball found him, not to lean back or fade away and to follow through on his shot.
“The process” paid off against Old Dominion. Daniels’ previous career-high for 3-pointers in a game was five, but he had established a new personal-best within the first 16 minutes Friday.
“I always feel good shooting, but tonight was a different type of night,” said Daniels, who also moved into the top 10 on VCU’s career 3-pointers list during the game.
VCU is undeniably a more dangerous team with a lethal Daniels stretching the floor with 3-point shooting. If “the process” keeps paying off like it did Friday, Smart won’t need to ask who holds all those 3-point records anymore. He’ll already know.
SMART TO RAMS: ‘FINISH THE JOB’
Friday’s performance was anything but flawless. The Rams built their lead to as many as 20 points three times, but the Monarchs continued to claw back into respectability. Although Old Dominion never got closer than 11 points in the second half, Smart was clearly frustrated with his team’s inability to put the Monarchs away.
“I thought our guys, we played well in spurts,” Smart said. “We still have not developed a killer instinct necessary to put teams away and we’ll continue to work on. Allowing 70 points is too much for us, so we’re going to get back to the basics over the next week before our next game and get better.”
It’s the second straight game in which the Rams built a big lead early, but didn’t finish strong. VCU appeared to be on the verge of blowing out Belmont last week, building a 39-18 advantage in the first half, but allowed the Bruins to pull within five points before holding on for a 10-point win. It’s a trend Smart can do without.
“You can’t ever be satisfied,” He said. “You’ve got to go at people. You’ve got to stop looking up at the scoreboard and stop feeling any level of complacency with a 20-point lead or a 15-point lead or whatever it is.”
WEBER ANSWERS BACK-UP QUESTIONS
Sophomore Briante Weber admirably filled in for injured point guard Darius Theus for the second straight game.
The active guard handed out a career-high 10 assists and turned the ball over just once. He also scored eight points, grabbed nine rebounds and recorded five steals.
Theus, who sat out the Rams’ game last week with Belmont to rest his ailing right knee, came off the bench Friday and played 16 minutes, but it was Weber who ran the VCU offense for the bulk of the evening.
Weber appears to have answered VCU’s question mark at back-up point guard. Sophomore Teddy Okereafor started the Rams’ win over Belmont, but struggled and played just 12 minutes. Weber ended up directing the offense down the stretch and delivered a steady performance.
In two games since Theus’ injury, Weber’s assist-to-turnover ratio is better than 4-to-1.