There are wins that you cherish, those when you played fantastically, or overcame great odds.
Virginia Commonwealth's 73-67 win over Long Beach State on Friday night will not be one of those. It will be a win that only reinforced some of the issues that the Rams had facing Florida State on Thursday, only not to the extreme that the Seminoles exposed.
Interior defense a little soft? Check. Trouble wearing teams down early (and really, this is the point in the season when they should be able to do that)? Check.
VCU just wasn't the VCU that you would have expected would have shown up in Puerto Rico. Florida State was good enough to show that. Long Beach isn't that good ... yet.
You have to say "yet" because Long Beach State in November is never the Long Beach State that takes the floor in February, or March. The 49ers are always made up of a conglomeration of transfers and JUCOs and redshirt freshman that have to learn to play together. Friday night, they learned that they can play together against one of the best teams in the country, and they will be a difficult team to beat come those late winter months when they have figured it all out.
The real issue for Long Beach State was that they finally wore down against the Rams. With a little more than two minutes remaining, there was a timeout called by Dan Monson. As the team made its way to the bench, you could tell they were gassed. They had their hands on their hips, or grabbing the bottom of their shorts. They were spent.
On the VCU sideline, there was none of that. Everyone still looked fresh. But it really took a long time to wear down this Long Beach State team, and despite that, they were still making big 3-point baskets, and challenging the Rams. They acquitted themselves better than anyone would have expected.
Count Branford Jones as the star of the night the 49ers. The redshirt frosh had 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting. He showed tremendous court awareness when he was handling the ball, and was executing great moves against that Ram defense.
Late in the second half, he head-faked a VCU player out of his shoes, realized where he was, stepped back two feet, and buried a three instead of taking a long two-point shot. Another time, he rightly attacked the soft underbelly of the VCU defense and forced them to challenge him on his way to the basket.
This is a star to watch as the season progresses.
Mike Caffey added 17 points for Long Beach and A.J. Spencer added 14 in the loss.
On the Rams' side, it was really Juvonte Reddic who became the star for the team. He turned on the defense when the team needed it most continuing his role from last season as VCU's best defender, and one of the better inside men in the league. He wasn't perfect, and there were definitely times that the smaller 49er team challenged him more than they should, but he established a presence at the end that really turned the tide.
But it shouldn't take late game heroics for this team. It was surprising when this team moved into the top 10 in the country last week, and it seemed a little too high at the time. It is really seeming like a stretch now, unless there really aren't 10 more prepared and more congruous teams at this point in the season. From what the Rams have shown in the last two games, there have to be.
Reddic ended with 17 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in the game, including a late rejection that essentially ended any chance of a comeback for Long Beach.
Rob Brandenberg found his shot late, scoring 18 including 4 of 10 from beyond the 3-point line. Briante Weber had 16 points, five assists (to no turnovers) and two steals in the win.
VCU will move on to play Georgetown in the fifth place game Sunday, while Long Beach State will square off against Kansas State in the seventh place game.