The best summary of VCU’s collapse against St. Bonaventure on Wednesday was written 162 years ago, by a man who died decades before Dr. James Naismith hung up a fruit basket at Springfield College.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Charles Dickens wrote in “A Tale of Two Cities.”
“It was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,” Dickens continued. “We had everything before us, we had nothing before us.”
The first half on Wednesday was excellent for the Rams, as they hung 40 points on the Bonnies in Olean, New York. VCU’s defense, which has played above expectations for much of the year, held St. Bonaventure to 25 in the opening frame.
The second half? A totally different tale. The Bonnies started the half on a 20-3 run, including 16 unanswered points. VCU scored three points in the last 10 minutes and would not make a field goal for the final nine minutes of the game. St. Bonaventure comfortably covered the 2.5-point spread, cruising to a 70-54 victory.
After the collapse, the Rams fell to 10-4 on the season, and 3-2 in the Atlantic 10 conference. The Rams looked to have an inside track at a double-bye in the A10 tournament, but now enter a Saturday afternoon matchup against Dayton in a more precarious spot.
Wednesday’s collapse is concerning enough as a stand-alone event. But the sluggish second-half from Wednesday’s is the most recent installment of a concerning trend.
Through five conference games, VCU is averaging 32 points in the second half, 6.4 points behind its first-half average. The Rams have also suffered second-half collapses in three of the last six games, including the non-conference finale against James Madison.
VCU led James Madison handedly throughout the game in December, carrying a 15-point lead into the locker room at the half. But the Dukes clawed back as VCU gave up 50 second-half points. The Rams would survive and win by one, ending the non-conference season at 7-2.
VCU has been tied or ahead at the half in every A10 game this year. Despite this, the Rams have two double-digit losses in their last three games. VCU and Rhode Island were tied at 40 at the half on Jan. 9, but VCU could muster just 28 points in the last 20 minutes. Rhode Island would win by 15, handing VCU its first A10 loss. Wednesday’s loss saw VCU score a season-low 14 points in the second half, turning a 15-point halftime lead into a 14-point loss.
The second halves against Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure represent two of VCU’s three lowest scoring halves of the season. VCU scored 23 in the second half against Mount St. Mary’s on Dec. 5 but held the Mountaineers to 22 points.
Overall, VCU scores six less points on average in the second half than the first half during A10 play. With a young team that is among the least experienced in the conference, some growing pains are expected. However, this trend has manifested itself after VCU got a few games under its belt.
So which VCU is the real VCU? Will it be first half or second half VCU? Only time will tell. The key for the Rams to break this trend will be in leaning on their two best scorers: sophomore guard Bones Hyland and junior forward Vince Williams. The pair seem able to score at will at times and can jumpstart the offense on their own.
The key to the Dayton game, and to the rest of the season, is not letting off the gas. These blown leads and great escapes can be teaching moments for a roster that will likely stay in place for a couple more seasons to come.
The Rams will look to stand on the gas for a full 40 minutes Saturday, as the Stuart C. Siegel Center hosts the Dayton Flyers. The game represents another reunion for Dayton head coach Anthony Grant, who tallied a 76-25 record in three seasons at VCU during the 2000s.