Since the opening of the Siegel Center nearly 12 years ago, it’s no secret VCU has enjoyed one of the strongest home court advantages in the country, compiling an absurd 150-25 record.
So when the Rams dropped their second home game in a row on Tuesday night, it seemed the shocked crowd didn’t know how to react. For the second consecutive game, VCU was blown out in its own building, and the life was sucked out of the sold-out arena.
With another dominant performance, George Mason showed the rest of the Colonial Athletic Association, and the ESPNU national audience, why they are the best team in the conference right now. It was as if Jim Larranaga and his team were in on a secret, of which the other 7000-plus people in the building were unaware.
The Patriots opened the game on an 11-2 run and spent the rest of the game simply building on that lead. They held the Rams to their lowest scoring half of the entire season, allowing just 19 points in the first half. VCU’s 51 points was also their lowest total this season.
Cam Long, George Mason’s senior guard, was the catalyst on both sides of the floor for the Patriots. He posted 14 points and four assists and sat out just six minutes. He also had two steals and was a terror on defense throughout the night. Shaka Smart said after the game, “If (Long) is not the best guard in the conference, he’s the second best.”
In addition to Long’s efforts, George Mason played what Larranaga called the best-executed defensive game of the season for his team. They held VCU to a lowly 37 percent from the field, including 5-for-19 from 3-point range. Meanwhile, GMU went 9-for-16 from the 3-point range, many of which were wide open shots.
VCU had just one player score in double figures with Rob Brandenberg’s 12 points. The rest of the team’s top scorers were ice cold most of the game. Joey Rodriguez and Brandon Rozzell were each 2-for-7 from the field, and Rozzell missed all four of his 3-point attempts. Bradford Burgess was 2-for-8, and leading scorer Jamie Skeen was limited to 3-for-8 for just seven points.
The lowly feeling inside the Siegel Center after Tuesday’s game is representative of the Rams’ current situation – empty and uncertain. The back-to-back losses at the hands of Old Dominion and George Mason drop VCU to third in the CAA standings and have pretty much closed the door on any chance of an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Uncertainty cannot be mistaken for a lack of character or willpower. Coach Smart remains confident that his team will find their stride and shooting touch once again.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that have made big plays,” Smart said. “ … We’re going to keep working and keep letting our guys know we believe in them. Sometimes during the season you go through stretches like this, but you’ve got to endure, and you’ve got to fight through.”
Smart’s facial expressions may take a thousand turns throughout a game, but he always maintains a certain calmness that they players seem to take after. Many of the best teams in the country have a coach with an infectious personality, which the players take on as their own.
If the Rams are to dig their way out of this hole, they will have to follow Smart’s lead in terms of resiliency and maintain the swagger that they have carried all season long. Every team has a low point in a season, but for VCU this low point has come at a difficult time.
It will be up to Smart and emotional leaders such as Rodriguez and Ed Nixon to lead the team through adversity as the CAA tournament looms in the near future.
The immediate future will be all about regaining confidence. VCU’s next opponent is Wichita State, part of ESPN’s BracketBusters marathon. It will be a third straight opportunity to perform in front of a national audience and to show the rest of the country the type of team they are.
From there, the rest of the season will be a dogfight as VCU has to count on winning the conference to secure an NCAA berth.