We're not unlike any other household in that we have routines that work for us. Sunday brunch at Millie's down in Shockoe Bottom is one of those routines. It's defined not as much by the calendar but more by the "man I could use some Millie's" parameter of timekeeping.
The clock struck Get There again this morning, so we found ourselves at a window table just after 9am. I didn't even need to look at the menu board, because I always order the same thing: the Devil's Mess.
And it hit me at that moment: The Devil's Mess is an ideal descriptor of havoc.
There's no getting around the facts: this was an old fashioned butt-kicking.
VCU dominated defensively from the first possession of the game, and showed off both depth and firepower in the second half to cruise to the 73-54 win. The Tide did not make a field goal for the first 10:44 of the game and the first half finished 33-18. Though the Crimson Tide would twice get within 11 early in the second half, huge play off the bench from DJ Haley and Melvin Johnson put the game away. The duo ignited a 23-8 VCU run to grab the largest lead of the game at 62-36 with just under 10 minutes remaining.
The Rams had four players hit double figures, the fifth time this year that has happened. Troy Daniels (16), Treveon Graham (14), Melvin Johnson (12) and Rob Brandenberg (10) did the honors.
Anthony Grant could be heard muttering "nobody said anything about the full monty" as he walked the back halls of the Siegel Center last night. That's exactly what the Rams showed.
You're about to read of early-game devastzione, and the offense caught up in the second half and fired on all cylinders. Important geek note: Shaka Smart could sense the defense would be there for him, so he opted to go to a small lineup that featured Haley at the five, Daniels at the four, Darius Theus at the three, Johnson at the two, and Teddy Okereafor at the point. The offensive-minded lineup was the firepower behind the second half run that put the game away.
Ten different VCU players scored in the second half, and seven made at least one free throw.
Where Things Changed
This game changed 17 seconds after it began. After Rodney Cooper made two free throws to open the scoring, the devil's mess got cooking. Alabama's next 17 possessions produced nine turnovers, 0-7 from the field, and a 93% FT shooter missed both. The specifics: Miss FG, Turnover, TO, TO, Miss FG, Miss FG, Miss FG, TO, TO, TO, TO, TO, Miss FG, Miss FG, TO, 0-2 FT, Miss FG.
That's 17 of Alabama's first 18 possessions that came up empty. Bama got five points on its next three possessions to cut the lead to 14-7. Then, havoc forced a TO, Miss FG, TO, Miss FG, TO, Miss FG and the scoreboard read 26-7, meaning Alabama scored seven points on its first 27 possessions.
In the carnage VCU forced a 10-second violation, a five-second call, a backcourt call, had live ball turnovers, and dead ball turnovers. You name it and the defense accomplished it. If Alabama was able to get into a semblance of offense, they ran nothing that worked and rarely got the ball inside the three-point line within the first 25 seconds of the shot clock.
What It Means
The big thing for me is that VCU came out of the Bahamas Plus Bama portion of the noncon sked at 2-2. That's pretty good. But when you look a little more deeply, you will squint your eyes and curl your lower lip over your top lip. The reason: the thought of being frustrated at two close losses to Duke and Missouri alongside blowout wins over Alabama and Memphis tests your worldview.
It's difficult determining how to process this kind of feeling--VCU is playing the best and faring very well. You know the feeling because it crinkles your face that way. The feeling--buoyed by the fact that VCU went 10 deep with no discernible dropoff in skill last night--is that this team has the chance to be very good. It's okay to think that. We deal in reality here, and that is a realistic view.
Speaking of process, this performance also gives Shaka Smart the game tape to point to and say "when you honor the process and play hard, this is how good you can be." The process has Troy Daniels continuing to shoot aggressively despite early misses. Darius Theus impacting the game in ways that have little to do with the stat sheet. Melvin Johnson showing off an array of skills. DJ Haley bringing the attitude.
Statistic(s) That Jumps Out At Me
1-6 (2): Alabama's high-scoring Trevors--Lacey and Releford--came into the game averaging a combined 32 points. The duo finished with 17 combined points, and had just two points at the half on 1-6 shooting.
12-21, 5-8, 11-14 (40): That was VCUs field goals, threes, and free throws in the second half. That impressive performance came against an Alabama defense that was allowing just 28ppg in second halves, when teams were shooting 37%.
The Curmudgeon's View
One fear and one to do item. First, I fear overconfidence. We as fans get to be overconfident, it's what we do, and we get to look more than one game ahead on the schedule. So I can say without blushing that Dayton should visit The Stu on January 9 to play an 11-3 VCU team.
Nobody who actually sits on the bench during games can feel that way. The reason VCU looked so darned good Saturday night was because the team had three outstanding practices leading up to the game. That kind of focus and attention needs to continue.
And the to-do: Give whatever DJ Haley ate as a pregame meal on Saturday to Juvonte Reddic, right down to the calorie and silverware choice. Reddic's listless 15 minutes last night were his fewest number of minutes since last year's February 8 destruction of Towson. Other than that game, you have to reach back to last November when Reddic played 15 minutes in both Western Kentucky games. Irony, considering Tuesday's opponent?
Stars of the Game
*** DJ Haley. The big fella played, easily, his best game of this season with six points, six rebounds, two blocks, and a steal. It is perhaps the best game in his entire career. Last year's double-double against a terrible Towson team and his ease with Purdue in the NCAA tournament come to mind, but that's it. Haley showed emotion within his fierce play, and Smart backed it up postgame by saying the difference was Haley showed up to practice this week with a new attitude, and it carried over to the game.
** Melvin Johnson. When he missed his first three in the first half on Saturday, Johnson had missed 10 straight and was 3-21 from deep on the year. No problem--he knocked down his next three, including one from very deep. Johnson can score in so many ways. We mentioned on the broadcast and it bears repeating: Johnson brings that New York City swag to the floor. He walked onto campus with a feel for the game that most players never achieve. It's that guard cocky that is a compliment.
* Darius Theus. This may be a bit of a surprise--Daniels, Graham, and Briante Weber all deserve mention. And that bears out the team victory. However Theus gets the nod because of two first half plays--he exploded on Releford and forced a backcourt call; then harrassed Lacey into a walking call. Those were tone-setters, and Theus's 27 minutes were calming.
Shot Chart, courtesy Jeff Horne: