Gritty win just what the doctor ordered for VCU

Rob Brandenberg shot 5-of-10 and had 11 points and three rebounds in VCU’s win over Lehigh. (Photo by Chris Conway)

Jim Swing
Sports Editor

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What will ultimately stick out like a sore thumb from this one is the potential season-ending foot injury of one of college basketball’s biggest stars.

Lehigh’s lead man C.J. McCollum – the nation’s top scorer and potential future NBA lottery pick – went down with an apparent foot injury that coach Brett Reed revealed “there may have been a break involved.”

McCollum left the Mountain Hawk’s 59-55 nail-biting loss to VCU in the first half and never returned. When he finally did make his way out back out to the bench in the second half, with his left foot wrapped up, McCollum could be seen in a replay murmuring, “I broke my foot,” to a teammate.

The injury is eye opening, gut punching and will without a doubt leave college basketball worse off.

But on the other sideline, this thriller was just what the doctor ordered.

A VCU team that could seemingly do no wrong hadn’t been in a fight like this since a narrow loss to Missouri in the Bahamas on Nov. 24.

The Rams had won eight straight games by double-digits, including three straight 90+ point performances for the first time in over 34 years.

They enjoyed four consecutive wins of 32, 37, 28 and 51 points.

Now the new kids on the block are just four days away from their first taste of Atlantic 10 action against a solid Dayton squad.

“The past few games, we’ve kind of breezed through,” VCU senior guard Troy Daniels said. “Defense wasn’t really the key in those games, but it definitely was in this game.

“We’re definitely going to need it going into the A-10.”

A VCU team on cloud nine was brought back down to earth, Daniels included. Going into Saturday’s game Daniels had nailed 41 of his last 80 three-point field goal attempts, including the 11 he made a game earlier.

And so a 3-of-9 shooting night from deep was a more modest performance from Daniels, regardless of the clutch 3-pointer he drilled with 1:53 left in the game to push VCU’s lead to 55-51.

All in all, it didn’t matter who was taking the shot in that point of the game.

“We have Troy Daniels, Rob Brandenberg, Treveon Graham, we don’t care who takes that shot,” senior point guard Darius Theus said. “We all got the faith and we all trust each other to make that last minute play and we all believe in each other to get the job done.”

This game had all the similarities of a home loss to Wichita State the Rams suffered earlier in the year when their defense was sloppy and the offense shot just under 35 percent.

Against the Mountain Hawks VCU shot 22-of-61 and 5-of-27 from deep, its worst shooting performance since a Nov. 23 loss to Duke.

This time, an even more comfortable Rams team found a way to pull out a win.

“Because of the time we spend together, we’re finally just realizing each other’s games,” Brandenberg said. “We all know what to expect from each other and we all hold each other to a high standard.”

Surely, there will be nights like these in conference play, where shots aren’t falling and a gritty win is the only way out.

Preparation-wise, Saturday night’s win will go a long way moving forward. In his first words to the media after the game, VCU head coach Shaka Smart made it simple:

“I thought that this was exactly the type of game that we needed going in Atlantic 10 play,” he said.

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