For the second game in a row, the VCU basketball team exhibited poor late-game execution and squandered a double-digit lead. A herculean 37-point effort from Justin Tillman was all that saved the Rams from two straight collapses. Against Dayton, VCU was able to survive after coughing up a 15-point second half lead. Three days earlier, the Rams weren’t so lucky and lost after ceding a 12-point lead to in-state rival Richmond.
Late-game execution is not a new issue for the Rams, it has plagued Mike Rhoades’ unit all season. Against Virginia, VCU went cold from the field for the final four minutes after drawing within a single basket. Against Michigan in Maui, the team ceded a game-ending 11-0 run to the Wolverines after holding a three-point lead with two minutes to go. Against Texas, the Rams again went cold after rallying from 18 points down in the second half. Even in victories, the Rams have not always been executing late in games. The Rams struggled to put both Winthrop and VMI away after controlling the majority of the game. In conference play, VCU had to squeak out a victory against George Mason after controlling proceedings for the majority of the game.
Whether the Rams relax when they open up big leads or stop running the offense that gave them the big lead in the first place, their lack of late-game execution is one of the major inhibitors of their season. It has prevented VCU from contending for a top-3 seed in the conference and likely will be one of the reasons the Rams miss out on the NCAA Tournament. With six games remaining on the schedule, this is not something the Rams can build on for this season, but needs to be something Rhoades and his staff addresses in the off-season. Justin Tillman won’t be there next year to keep bailing the Rams out.