I have an admission to make so we may as well rip the band aid: I didn’t think the officiating in the Dayton game was all that bad. I know that sounds weird, and I cannot come to grips with a 27-2 foul shot disparity—SOMETHING was amiss—but I was not yelling at the TV. Yes, I thought Keshawn Curry was gonked on the head on a couple of those drives and there should’ve been a whistle. And yes, Dayton does a decent amount of low hand waist-pushing to establish position. But at no point did my wife ask me if my bourbon glass was empty, which is code in my house for “stop acting like an idiot.”
I believe it was Maya Smart who coined “win anyway,” and that’s exactly what VCU did. Let’s move on.
One thing Mike Rhoades underscored but was lost in the excitement of the win is that “it isn’t over.” Meaning, Wednesday night was awesome but we awoke Thursday morning with the same predicament. VCU is not magically back at full strength after passing a test. There’s another in two days. While the results are uneven, LaSalle can take a punch. Ashley Howard always has his kids playing hard. We’d better be ready.
THE LAST GAME, IN BRIEF (THANKS, JERRY)
Ace Baldwin’s dagger three with six seconds to play lifted the depleted Rams to a 53-52 win at Dayton. It was VCUs fourth straight win over a progra
m I personally want as a legit rival. It’s growing with every game. VCU now leads the alltime series 15-7.
There were heroes aplenty. Vince Williams continues to eff up the opposition, this time in a more traditional way. His 13/11 double-double in 38 minutes underscores his activity level. Hason Ward had two mammoth blocks in the last three minutes. Both Mikeal Brown Jones and Jalen DeLoach deserve kudos. Brown-Jones hit two key jumpers against Dayton’s zone, and DeLoach wielded a hammer on the block in his 18 minutes.
To come back from a 21-day layoff, down two starters, with little practice, having to play at Dayton, and to take only two foul shots, and win? That’s a lot of commas to say the VCU bench is chock full of dawgs. I love this team.
Side note: I think Dayton’s Malachi Smith was instructed to foul on VCUs final possession but did not because he had four fouls. That’s what set off Anthony Grant in the postgame.
THE LA SALLE EXPLORERS
The Explorers are 5-6 overall and 0-1 in the A10. LaSalle lost 69-61 to Fordham on December 30 and the best win is 76-74 over Penn on December 11. KenPom has VCU winning 67-58. VCU defeated LaSalle 73-62 last year behind 24 points from Bones Hyland and a 13/10 double-double from Hason Ward. Mikeal Brown-Jones grabbed five offensive rebounds in only 13 minutes of play.
Louisville-transfer Josh Nickelberry leads the team in scoring (11.9ppg) and three pointers—he’s made 25 at a 35% clip. Anwar Gill is a swiss army knife and active. He leads the team in assists, fouls, turnovers, steals, and field goal percentage despite playing 19 minutes per game. Clifton Moore, 22nd nationally in blocked shots, is a rugged 6-10 and scored 26 points in last year’s game.
Stat to watch, brought to you by Chris Kowalczyk: VCU is 27-4 the past three seasons when scoring 20 or more points off turnovers and 26-7 when forcing 18 or more turnovers.
GOLA ARENA: DO YOU REMEMBER?
December 22, 2003: The Rams, prior to a CAA championship, traveled to Gola Arena on a slushy night and fell behind LaSalle by double digits early. The Explorers were led by Steven Smith, an explosive 6-8 scorer, and Gary Neal—the same Gary Neal they’d face when he transferred to Towson. VCU chipped away at the lead and won, 55-54, when a freshman named Jesse Pellot-Rosa grabbed an airball and stuck it home in the last few seconds. Domonic Jones led VCU that night with 16 points.
January 25, 2014: An A10-leading VCU team visited Philly and won a wild double-overtime game, 97-89. The Rams trailed by 10 with five minutes to play and by six points in the game’s final minute, but Treveon Graham did Treveon Graham things, scoring the last six points of regulation to force the first overtime. Rob Brandenberg hit a big three in the second overtime and VCU closed it out. Graham finished with 34 points and 12 rebounds, and Juvonte Reddic had 27 points and 15 rebounds. Briante Weber chipped in 12 points and five steals.
THIS IS THE LAST SECTION
We were scheduled to be in Philly, a city I love my brothers, but with the covid positivity rates hovering around Troy Daniels’ career three point percentage we are staying home. (On a tangent, how am I responsible for the cleaning fee at the cancelled Air B&B when there’s nothing to clean?) I'm putting chili on the stove this afternoon so it should be cooked up and ready by tipoff.
To me, this is one of those games where the last five minutes of the first half and the first five minutes of the second half are going to tell a story. How gassed are you after 15 minutes, and how fiery are you after getting a rest? I like our chances.