Cry Havoc And Let Slip the Hoos of War!
Until the last four minutes, there was almost more to be concerned about from this game than to feel good about. I watched what VCU was doing to the defense, on the boards, and defending that goddamn Sides halfcourt offense, and I kept seeing every ACC team doing the same. The 18-0 in fast break points means that VCU outscored UVA by 9 in the halfcourt, which should be sobering to all of us, because the halfcourt is our thing. To get trounced on the boards, give up wide open threes, and not be able to stop dribble penetration are not good signs for our defense. And when we weren't running the ball, a large percentage of our offensive possessions were as constipated and passive as the worst of last year.
But then it was a two-point game and entered crunch time, and you saw the steel in this team. The upper class leaders took over on the defensive end, and the sophomore stars took over on the offensive. Kyle Guy became Mr. Freeze and Ty Jerome grabbed his sniper rifle, blowing up hearts from long distance. It's ridiculous for anybody to shoot from so fucking far out, but we know by now that's just his range.
The Ty and Guy Show. I've been anticipating it since December 2014. The two of them committed absurdly early, before their high school junior campaigns. Most of Ty's games were streamable on MSG, and a few of Kyle's streamed on an Indiana high school sports site. I watched each of them play and started salivating over their potential. Guy was as complete an offensive high school player as I've ever seen. Jerome just controlled games. I started thinking that if they stayed four years under this coaching staff they could become one of the ACC's legendary backcourts. Great shooters, great passers, great attitudes ... those are the ingredients of a transcendent backcourt combination.
We never really got to see it last season. Bennett's rotation dictated that they only played 734 possessions together, out of 4000, scattered here and there throughout the season. No surprise, given that London Perrantes was the captain of the ship, and both Marial Shayok and Darius Thompson were getting half the possessions. The only times Ty and Kyle were going to play together were when Perrantes was on the bench, and Tony wasn't going to want that to happen too often in highly competitive games.
Now we see it. The first two games didn't really show us much, partly because Jerome had slow starts in both games, not playing particularly well in either until late. But Friday evening in the Siegel Center, the curtain went up. They combined for 42 points, 8:2 assists:turnovers (both turnovers in the first half), 5 steals, and hit 16 of 30 shots overall, 8 of 15 from the arc. Both of them hit that 6 3FGA mark that I am looking for this season. Guy continued his string of hitting at least 50% any time he attempts more than 4 threes in a game. Guy almost matched his previous career high game (21) in the second half of this one with his 19-point explosion.
But in those last few minutes, they were magical. A VCU layup and borderline foul on Salt let the Rams cut the lead to 63-60. Guy came back in, and finished an epic possession with a three-pointer that doubled the lead. Next time down, he followed up with a drive for rare Virginia free throws and coolly hit them both. 68-62.
Jonathan Williams took Hall into the paint and scored over him, then Jerome took his turn with one of his patented Parking Lot Bombs and blew a hole in VCU's hull a mile wide. 71-64. And, no, Wilkins did not travel.
Williams did what a senior leader does at the end of a big home game, and gave his team another chance with a three-point answer off another high ball screen play. But Guy immediately neutralized him with a last second catch-dribble move-shoot that put the dagger in the Rams' heart. It was 74-67 with under a minute, and this game was for all intents and purposes over.
VCU is putting the pieces together. They were unproven because they had so many new players, but these are quality players and they found something in the crucible of high level competition. It will be interesting to follow them this season.
While Guy and Jerome were the offensive stars, and the seniors led, the bench made its contribution. In stretches of both halves, Diakite, Huff and Hunter manned the post positions while the captains got much-needed rests, and gave four crucial minutes of break-even time. Each made positive plays and gave glimpses of what they will do in future games as they grow into their roles.
It's a big win. Yes, the offense looked bad at times as we saw the Sides Stagnation from last year, some guys made dumb plays, the boxing out was sub-standard, we got killed on the boards, and defensive breakdowns contributed to big nights by Isaac Vann and Williams; but the Cavaliers went into hostile territory, took the initiative, fought off charge after charge, and kept control throughout. They showed what they are made of, and showed a dynamism that will serve them well in future battles.
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