After a promising start to conference play, the VCU Rams basketball season is unravelling quickly. A 15 point loss at home to bitter rival Richmond leaves VCU at 3-3 in the conference on a two-game losing streak. VCU seemed to have turned the corner after coming from behind to defeat Duquesne at home, but have lost its way in its last two outings. The defeats, on the road to Dayton and at home to Richmond, have not been close and has exposed several weaknesses of the VCU team. Against Dayton, VCU’s defense was notably poor, yielding over a 100 points for the first time in 15 years, and the details of the loss are far less pretty. The Flyers shot 62.9 percent from the floor, canned 17 three-pointers and scored 66 points in the first half. The VCU full-court pressure defense, which was the catalyst for its comebacks against La Salle and Duquesne, let the Rams down in Ohio. The Rams were unable to force Dayton to make many mistakes and offered little resistance, conceding many open three point shots early in the game that set the tone for the Flyers.
Head coach Mike Rhoades said he would not let his team forget about the loss and expressed a desire for his players to be angry after the result. This seemed the perfect fuel to get the Rams up for their rivalry game in the Siegel Center. The Dayton result, however, seemed to loom over the Rams and they turned in a very sluggish performance against a team with only three previous wins on the season. The Rams made only four three-pointers on the game, again allowed their opponent to shoot above 50 percent from the field, and were never really in the game. Instead of fueling the fire and motivating VCU, the deflating loss to Dayton lingered with VCU. Guard Johnny Williams’ comments suggest as much when the senior said the Rams were playing not to lose instead of playing their game.
Moving forward, VCU will have to bleach these two games from their memory and get back to the way they were playing in late December and early January, when the team appeared to be clicking on all cylinders. The Rams can start by giving Justin Tillman some help. The senior has been the lone Ram to perform close to his normal productivity in the past two outings. Malik Crowfield, De’Riante Jenkins and even Williams had begun to pick up the scoring slack for VCU early in A-10 play, making the league’s top scoring team more dynamic on offense. But against Dayton and Richmond, the trio of Ram guards have been largely quiet, in large part due to the Rams struggles from behind the arc. This will have to change for VCU in order for the team to right the ship. The team has a quick turnaround before its game Saturday against George Washington, which is probably best for the Rams. The shorter they dwell on their last two losses, the better.