BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Last Tuesday evening, before Thanksgiving dinner even hit the oven, VCU did something of team building importance. It was more than just claiming third place in the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center. While the record books dutifully recorded a 77-63 victory over Oregon, the Rams did more than win a consolation game. This was the type of victory that proved significant on several accounts. First, to set the stage.
In Monday’s semifinal, VCU faced highly-regarded and nationally ranked Villanova. Following a close first half, VCU took the lead early in the second half. The Wildcats regrouped, going on a game changing 16-0 run and never looking back.
Tuesday saw VCU get out to a double-digit lead and withstand several runs by Oregon. In the stretch the Rams sealed the deal en route to a third place finish. VCU coach Shaka Smart saw his group challenged and respond favorably.
“We had a great turnaround,” Smart said. “We put together a game plan on limited time. We gave the team the game plan this morning and they did a great job executing it. We also made toughness plays.”
One of the individuals making his share of tough plays was Melvin Johnson. The 6-3 junior hails from the Bronx and had about 35 family and friends on hand. It’s great to play in front of the home folk, and more satisfying considering the outcome and how it was realized. “We emphasized defense completely,” said Johnson. “Every possession trying to get a stop.” Referring to smart’s orientation toward analytics, Johnson did make a few mistakes tonight but yesterday (against Villanova) we made way too many mistakes.”
Briante Weber also made the toughness players. Assigned to Joseph Young of Oregon, Weber held the 6-2 senior guard to 2 of 13 shooting and just nine points. Young entered the game averaging a team-high 24.5 points, and defending him was naturally a priority for Smart and VCU. “Weber did the job on defense,” Smart said.
Smart also lauded the offensive play of his club. Five players scored in double figures, a product of transition opportunities and good ball movement.
A satisfying victory no doubt. The defense, their trademark, did the job needed to win. The offense was effective and, as noted previously, well-balanced. An admirable trait to any coach. The most impressive aspect of this victory was that the Rams showed enviable resolve in putting the Villanova game behind them and concentrating on Oregon. In that consolation game they were “locked in” on the game plan and individual assignments. That ability to regroup and the manner in which they did is impressive. The win is something to build on. That outstanding resiliency is something that will bode well for them on entering the two or more games a week of Atlantic Ten play.
The Legends ultimately gave VCU much more than a split and third place finish.