RICHMOND, Va. – There was a moment at the end of the first half Tuesday night where Mike Lonergan appeared close to earning a technical foul. Referee Tim Kelly clearly gave the George Washington coach a second look before Lonergan, protesting contact on VCU’s final possession of the half, cooled down and retreated to his lockerroom.
On second thought, he probably wishes he had stuck to his guns and picked up a couple of technicals.
Instead, he returned to the floor for the second half and watched powerlessly as VCU pulverized his Colonials squad 72-48. VCU actually led by as many as 29, and George Washington shot an abysmal 19 percent (5-of-26) from the field in the period as the Rams rumbled to their 12th straight win.
On paper, it was a contest between the Atlantic 10 Conference’s preseason No. 1 (VCU) and No. 2 (GW) teams. On the hardwood, it was no contest at all.
The Rams haven’t lost since Dec. 6, but still found a way to open people’s eyes Tuesday night. It was a performance impressive in both because of who the Rams beat and how they did it. It was the type of game that spoke to how good this VCU team can be. VCU, which has played one of the toughest schedules in the country, didn’t need to justify its top-15 ranking, but the Rams sure looked every bit like a top-15 team anyway.
The scary part is that you actually have to look past VCU’s defense – undeniably the star of Tuesday’s rout – to get down to this tasty nugget: None of VCU’s top three scorers cracked double figures. The trio of Treveon Graham, Melvin Johnson and Briante Weber combined for 21 points and shot 32 percent (8-of-25) from the floor. VCU’s offense has relied heavily on both Graham and Johnson this year. Graham’s heroics rescued VCU in tight recent road wins at Rhode Island Saint Louis.
No heroics from Graham were necessary Tuesday. Instead, VCU’s three leading scorers were a freshman (Terry Larrier) and a pair of sophomores (JeQuan Lewis and Mo Alie-Cox). VCU’s bench outscored George Washington’s 38-7. Larrier finished with 15 points, and the top-50 recruit did so with a mixture of drives, spin moves and 3-point shooting.
“He killed us,” Lonergan said afterwards.
George Washington simply could not withstand VCU’s depth offensively or defensively. VCU came at the Colonials in waves. Instead of General George Washington, the Colonials probably felt more like Custer. The loss was the Colonials’ worst in terms of margin of defeat since an 84-57 Feb. 16, 2013 at…VCU.
There was plenty of reason to believe George Washington was primed to seize Tuesday’s opportunity. The Colonials, who own probably the A-10’s best non-conference win, a December defeat of Wichita State, still have some NCAA resume-building to do, and VCU presented just such an opportunity.
The Colonials left with a little more than some burnable box scores and a quiet bus ride back to Foggy Bottom.
But back to VCU’s defense, which appeared to treat the game like a showcase event. George Washington was 1-of-17 from three in the game and shot just 27 percent (14-of-52) overall. During one nearly 16-minute stretch in the second half, the Colonials made just one field goal. During that period, VCU turned a four-point game into a laugher.
“Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any [defensive performances] that were better, but I think it’s the best one we’ve had in a while,” said VCU Coach Shaka Smart. “That’s for sure. It was a completely different level of defensive energy than we had in our last game at Saint Louis, so I think our guys did a good job bringing a level of energy to the game.”
George Washington doesn’t possess the most dynamic offense in the country, but the Colonials do have versatile swingman Patricio Garino and arguably the league’s best big man in Kevin Larsen. Those two players combined for just 10 points.
VCU’s effort on Larsen was particularly splendid. Alie-Cox and Justin Tillman successfully fronted Larsen for much of the night in the post. When Larsen did catch the ball, it was often 15-18 feet from the basket. On the rare occasion Larsen received the ball on the low block, Alie-Cox – a large fella in his own right – held his ground. Larsen finished the night with 1 point, 9 rebounds and 5 turnovers. He was 0-of-4 from the field. A little more than a year ago, Larsen scored 22 points and converted 9-of-11 field goals in a 76-66 win over VCU in Washington, D.C.
Alie-Cox, for the record, was staying pretty grounded about VCU’s effort, grading it as a C-plus, B-minus game.
“We’ve got to guard the ball better,” Alie-Cox said. “The majority of their points came from the foul line in the second half. We don’t foul them, they really don’t score half those points.”
Three-point shooting has been an issue all season for the Colonials, but defense was supposed to be the signature of Lonergan’s club. But VCU carved up George Washington in the second half, shooting 49 percent (17-of-35), including 15-of-28 on 2-point buckets.
This is the deepest team of Shaka Smart’s six-year VCU tenure, both in terms of talent an in the way the Rams can win, and that should make teams around the league a little nervous. They certainly have Lonergan’s attention.
“I’m definitely disappointed,” he said. “But I think you have to give VCU all the credit in the world. They were ready to come home, prove a point and blow somebody out and they did that to us tonight.”