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VCU abandons starters in close loss to Wisconsin

Did VCU find a rotation tonight that will be more effective in the long run?

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

VCU came into Sunday's matinee match versus the Wisconsin Badgers looking to salvage a win in Madison Square Garden for the 2K Sports Classic. The Rams were coming off a tough 79-71 loss to #5 Duke on Friday night giving up 30 points to Grayson Allen, the Blue Devils latest sensation.

Coming into this four team field VCU wanted to show that they belonged with the big boys and it's hard to say right now that they are not close.

VCU frustrated Bo Ryan's Badgers forcing nine first half turnovers and establishing a 43-37 advantage at the half. Something happened at halftime though, which we'll probably never find out what. Will Wade seemingly benched JeQuan Lewis and Justin Tillman at the half and instead the Rams rolled with a primary rotation of Melvin Johnson, Korey Billbury, Dougie Brooks, Ahmad Hamdy-Mohammed, and Mo Alie-Cox.

The rotation didn't really do the Rams in, but ti was a bit odd. Three of the Rams starters, Lewis, Tillman, and Jordan Burgess, ended the game with 1-5 performance on the floor with 3 points and 3 rebounds. Those statlines alone make it impressive that VCU was able to hang in the game.

VCU continued to frustrate the Badgers in the second half until a Bo Ryan technical at the half's first media timeout seemed to get Wisconsin going. The Badgers responded to their coaches tirade, took the lead, and then held that lead until Alie-Cox tied the game at 71 with a flush with just over 2 minutes remaining.

Melvin Johnson gave the Rams the lead with 32 seconds left but Wisconsin quickly responded after a timeout with a Bronson Koenig layup that would put them up 74-73. Johnson would then run down the floor and choose a really bad look that solidified a win for the Badgers.

While the loss will sting for Rams fans, Will Wade may have found a rotation he rolls with for awhile. The four Rams starters went 3-for-7 from the floor combined, along with Melvin Johnson's 8-for-18 21 point performance. Wade basically rolled the whole second half without a true point guard and relied on Johnson to be the primary ball-handler.

Billbury and Hamdy both likely worked their way in the starting lineup after tonight. Billbury, an Oral Roberts transfer, posted 17 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals. Meanwhile Hamdy narrowly missed a double-double with 13 points and 9 rebounds.

Keep an eye on the Rams lineup this upcoming week with American and Old Dominion coming into the Siegel Center. VCU can get away with basically anything against American but it will be interesting to see if they reintroduce a traditional point guard against Trey Freeman of rival ODU.

The question will linger for now though. Did Wade go away from their starters because of performance or was his new rotation just deemed to be more effective?