The last time that Will Wade entered Belk Arena in Davidson, North Carolina, it was two years ago as the head coach of the Chattanooga Mocs. Even though Wade was coaching at a different school, in an entirely different conference, there were some striking similarities between today’s game and his previous game in Belk Arena. Two years ago, Wade had led the Mocs to an 8-0 record in Southern Conference play. Chattanooga entered with hopes of increasing their lead in the Southern Conference standings, and Wildcats absolutely ran the Mocs out of the building. Then just a sophomore, Jordan Barham had 16 points on 8 of 9 shooting, as the Wildcats hit 43% of their threes that day. The Mocs hit 0%, going 0-13. Tonight, Wade found himself in a similar spot – his VCU squad entered this game with a 7-0 conference record and NCAA Tournament aspirations on the line.
This time was different, and Wade will leave Davidson with his perfect conference record intact, and VCU’s winning streak extended to 11 games.
VCU opened the game on an 11-3 run, keyed by their defense – forcing turnovers that led to easy buckets, and even drawing an offensive foul. Davidson was sloppy with the ball to start the game, staking VCU to some easy transition buckets and wide open three point looks early in the first half. These good looks early really helped VCU find their confidence, which failed to waver as the game went on.
Davidson committed 8 turnovers in the first 10:00 of play – 6 of those attributed to Jack Gibbs. The Davidson guard had an up and down day: he scored 37 points, a game high, but also gave the ball away 9 times. In the first half, VCU turned up the pressure and began attacking the hoop. This provided second chance opportunities and wide open three point looks, which the Rams were able to knock down. Davidson did not have as good of luck shooting the three early: after Oskar Michelson knocked down a three, the Wildcats went stone cold from behind the arc, making only 1/11 in the first 16 minutes of action.
Davidson came to life with a couple minutes to go in the first, ending the half on an 11-0 run. Keyed by a Gibbs three pointer, the Wildcats began to gain some momentum and get the crowd back in the game. They finished the first half on an insane sequence, hitting 2 threes in 6 seconds. Jack Gibbs nailed a three, and following a VCU turnover, Peyton Aldridge hit a buzzer-beating rainbow three pointer. This run gave the Wildcats some hope heading into the locker room, as they had come back from 22 down to only trail 28-38. Melvin Johnson led the way for the Rams at the halfway point with 15 points. Mo Allie-Cox also had a good half, going to work against the Davidson big men to the tune of 12 points and 6 rebounds.
The second half began as a back-and-forth affair, with Davidson never quite able to pull closer than about 8 or 10 points initially. VCU started the second half much like they did the first: forcing turnovers and converting them into buckets. The Rams really did well driving and attacking the hoop, and staked themselves a 15 point lead at the 12:00 mark.
The Wildcats would make another run behind Gibbs, Brian Sullivan, and Andrew McAuliffe. McAuliffe, the big man from Illinois, had 2 crowd-igniting dunks, both pulling Davidson to within 5. This was followed by some tough defense by the Wildcats, and then Jack Gibbs three pointer made the score 57-55 in favor of VCU with about 7:00 to play. The Rams called a timeout, regrouped, and went and won the game.
The Rams slowly extended their lead, and with three minutes to play, JeQuan Lewis hit a three and got a steal off of the inbounds pass, which was followed by a Mo Allie-Cox slam. This put VCU up 72-59 – a 15-2 run that salted the game away for the Rams. The Rams made their free throws down the stretch, and finished off a 10 point road victory over the Wildcats.
This win pushes VCU’s win streak to 11, and their record to 16-5 (8-0 in conference play). The loss brings Davidson to just 4-4 in conference play, and 12-7 overall. Next up for these teams is a pair of road games next Wednesday, February 3rd. Davidson will take on George Washington, while VCU goes to La Salle to play the Explorers.