THE PRESS BOX: Who got next?

Junior Mo Alie-Cox has recorded 50 blocks this season on average of 1.7 per contest. Photo by Erin Edgerton
Junior Mo Alie-Cox has recorded 50 blocks this season on average of 1.7 per contest. Photo by Erin Edgerton

Don’t shoot … no, don’t shoot that — swish.

I constantly find myself muttering this sentiment as I watch Melvin Johnson and JeQuan Lewis pull up from the parking lot. I say those words in absolute disgust every time— waving my arms in the air telling them to be patient and work the ball around as if they can actually hear me, or would even care to.

But after watching the ball go through the hoop, I quickly take it all back and nod my head in approval at the two players primed for the big moment — a moment this team has thrived off of this season.

Still, I have mixed emotions.

The lack of consistency makes it hard to fully understand the worth of this 2015-16 men’s basketball team. The boys are in first place in the Atlantic 10 Conference, possessing 21 wins with two games remaining in the regular season of a year that was supposed to see production drop.

This was the year all of Shaka’s recruits decided to back out of their commitments, leaving the program in flux and making HAVOC fans wonder who could add the much-needed depth a basketball team needs. This was the year when Justin Tillman fully embodied his male machismo and dyed his hair VCU gold — better than Breezy’s blonde, but I digress. .

VCU’s team is hard to define at the moment, but everything will come to light in the coming weeks.

After the huge road-win against George Washington Saturday, VCU and St. Joseph’s now sit at the top of the A-10 standings. The Rams conquered the Colonials after their prior meeting took place at the Stu and GW came away with the improbable; beating VCU at home 72-69.

A home contest against Davidson on March 2 closes out the Siegel Center careers of Johnson and Korey Billbury. They will be honored for their services to the game prior to the tip-off, but the real importance of the meeting will come when the game concludes.

VCU defeated Davidson 79-69 at their last meeting Jan. 29. Sparked by an efficient shooting night, the Rams were able to hold off the late surge of All A-10 guard Jack Gibbs, silencing the Wildcats on their home court.

A quick turnaround this week will have VCU travel to Ohio to take on conference heavyweight Dayton. The Flyers, 23-5 this season, pose the Rams’ greatest threat. Both squads will play this contest understanding the winner will likely be crowned the A-10 regular season champ. The teams’ only showdown of the season will be their most important.

To say momentum will be on VCU’s side going into this pivotal stretch of the season would be optimistic at best. With the most recent loss to George Mason, nothing is guaranteed.

Essential to the team’s success will be the play of forward Mo Alie-Cox. As of late, he has been a workhorse. His energy and relentless abandon on both the offensive and defensive glass has been telling of a seasoned veteran.

Averaging 10 points and seven rebounds per game, Mo has done everything VCU has asked of him. Unlike most big men, Mo possesses the ability to knock down free throws. Although he may be built like Shaq, he certainly doesn’t shoot like him. Shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe this season has increased from his gaudy 60 percent last season.

Mo being able to step up in the waning moments of close contests and knock down free points gives VCU a substantial advantage.

Like Mo, his fellow junior class is the glue that keeps the team together. Jordan Burgess and Lewis have eclipsed their production from last season and elevated the entire ball club in the process. The hustle points are back to what they were in the HAVOC days, but will it continue?

Jonathan “Flying” Williams might have made the play of the weekend for men’s hoops — to the point his fiery passion on the defensive end almost transpired into a horrific injury.

Diving after a loose ball, Williams went flying head first into the siding of the arena. With the gym in complete silence, and the whole CT staff and everyone else watching the TV and grabbing our necks as if it had just happened to us, we witnessed Johnny hop to his feet and slowly walk to the bench — five minutes later he was back in the game.

That is the effort this VCU team will need to play with. What the team lacks in other aspects of the game, the Rams can make up for in effort plays. Cliché, I know, but this is what has always made VCU basketball what it is.

The immense energy and enthusiasm this team has played with in the past has dwindled over the years. The smiles have turned into disgust, the player’s celebrations have become mundane and the sense of urgency to beat teams that just aren’t as capable as them has become dormant.

What legacy will this team leave? What legacy will Melvin leave this team with after four years of magical production? What will VCU teammates and fans say of the play of Billbury down the stretch after all talk was on his offensive prowess entering the season?

It will be interesting to see if head coach Will Wade can work his magic and relinquish a daunting ball club in the A-10 tourney and into the NCAA’s.

This team is more than capable of winning. Not just winning in Brooklyn next week during the A-10 Championships, but throughout the entire basketball landscape.

The attitude is there coming out of the GW win. There was a moment when late in the game when Mo and others were celebrating, you could see the weight of the week lifted off their shoulders. The bad GMU loss was over, and the boys were back to playing elite basketball.

It reminded me of my open gym days, sinking shot-after-shot on the way to garnishing a victory for my squad. And as I’m walking off the court I look at the motley crew sitting on the bench waiting, in preparation of my overzealous self to ask the question only winners ask: “Who got next?”

Sports Editor, Bryant Drayton

Bryant Drayton, photo by Brooke MarshBryant is a sports advocate who’s always smiling. He is a senior print and online journalism major aspiring for a career as a professional or college football columnist. Bryant currently covers high school football games for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn

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