BROOKLYN – For the first 8 minutes of Saturday’s A-10 semifinal, VCU had not-so-nice flashbacks of their March 5th, 27 point loss at Davidson.
Layups wouldn’t fall, shots would not go in. They started just 2 for 15 from the field and found themselves in a quick 12 point deficit.
Then, just as head coach Shaka Smart had been predicting, the shooting slump that had plagued the Rams for the better part of the last month, vanished. The Rams exploded on a 24-5 run behind jumpers from Treveon Graham, Melvin Johnson and JeQuan Lewis that built up a 14 point lead at the half.
“That’s as well as we’ve played in a long, long time” said VCU head coach Shaka Smart. “The focus needs to stay on us getting high quality shots, being ready to shoot, shoot it the right way. We’re willing to live with the result.”
“We let them dictate in a game of decisions” said Davidson head coach Bob McKillop. “We made some quick decisions in that 8 minute period and as a result they got out running. There was nothing we could do to defend them in transition.”
But, as the top seed in the tournament, the Wildcats did not go quietly in the second half. Davidson went on a 19-2 run of their own, fueled by A-10 player of the year Tyler Kalinoski’s game high 19 points, and 18 more from Jordan Barham and Jack Gibbs to cut the VCU lead to just 5 with 10:18 to play.
“They’re going to make their runs. We can’t panic” said Graham. “We just had to keep playing. And the way we were playing was working. We just had to get back to it.”
That’s exactly what the Rams did. Graham (18 points) and Mo Alie-Cox, who had a career high 18 points fueled a 9-0 run that re-established the VCU margin. VCU shot 49% from the field, and made 12 3 pointers, to go with shooting 83% at the free throw line. Davidson, meanwhile, was limited to just 27% from behind the arc and shot only 42% for the game.
The Rams now get set to play their 4th game in 4 days, a schedule which many of the players have not endured since their AAU tournament days.
“I’ve been more tired than this off Navy Seals week” said Alie-Cox referring to the Seal Team training the Rams go through every summer. “We had a day when we ran everywhere. So I told myself, Seals training was way harder than this.”
Outside of rest and fluids tonight, Smart believes that the mental aspect of preparing for Sunday’s game will be just as important.
“It’s a matter of us as a team saying, ‘We’ve got great energy and a lot of enthusiasm to play this game'” Smart said. “Our guys are used to playing a lot of basketball so it’s all about setting your mind and saying I’ve got high energy.”
This will be VCU’s third straight A-10 title game appearance, and they are still looking for their first win. They will face the Dayton Flyers, 56-52 winners over Rhode Island in the second semifinal.
“Dayton is a very good defensive team” said Smart. “We need to get our style of play going because they’re very good at slowing people down.”
“It still comes down to us being VCU, and honoring the things that make us successful no matter who the opponent is.”