What we learned

A look back at VCU’s inspiring run in the CAA Tournament

By: Tommy Lopez

As I sit here in the Rams Review offices, surrounded by crumpled box scores, worn-out video cameras, tangled headsets and empty CAA logo’d water bottles, I wonder: what did we learn this past weekend?

The men’s basketball team came into the CAA Tournament without much momentum, to say the least. After four-straight conference losses, three at the Siegel Center, students and fans were disheartened, disillusioned and frustrated. The lack of enthusiasm from the fan base manifested Saturday during a relatively quiet quarterfinal against Drexel, a game VCU won with a buzzer-beater off the hands of senior forward Jamie Skeen. Then, George Mason rallied as much support, if not more, to the Richmond Coliseum for the semifinal matchup Sunday as the Rams. A situation made all the more embarrassing when you consider that Northern Virginia residents have a much longer hike to Richmond than do, well, Richmonders. It was wall-to-wall black-and-gold-and-blue-and-white Monday for the VCU/ODU championship, but that’s to be expected.

Prior to the tournament, the Rams were not feeling the hype that GMU and ODU were facing, even if unbiased fans were pulling for VCU and Hofstra over the likes of Mason and Old Dominion. Even the sports staffs here at the Student Media Center were feeling, at times, borderline apathetic, knowing that much of the energy had been lost ever since the Monarchs pummeled the Rams in Richmond in mid-February.

As the quarterfinal game progressed Saturday, they players’ energy increased. The whole attitude surrounding the team seemed to grow more and more positive, culminating in Skeen saving the day with a last-second basket. Something clicked going into Sunday. The Rams played with a fervor that has not been consistently present since VCU’s road win over James Madison on Feb. 5. Let’s put this into perspective. No one was picking the Rams over George Mason. The Patriots held the nation’s longest winning streak at 16 games and were ranked 25th in the country, not to mention GMU’s destruction of the Rams at the Siegel Center on Feb. 15. A 16-point win was not only an upset, but it led to a sigh of relief. The Rams were back.

The championship game Monday night featured all that CAA fans could ask for. A competitive rivalry, a near-comeback from an underdog and a worthy champion. The heart that the VCU team showed in a heated rivalry on national television, with a spot in the NCAA Tournament on the line, should have been impressive to even the casual observer. Down 18 early in the second half, when the Rams could have surrendered, VCU chipped away at the margin and crawled back within one with under four minutes remaining. The Monarchs proved too strong down the stretch, but the comeback-that-almost-was gave Rams fans something to cheer about. What else can we ask for?

Rewind back to Saturday morning and look at a team that was one defeat away from a disappointing five-loss finale to conference play and likely another spot in the less-than-prestigious CBI. Wouldn’t you understand if the team faced a lack of motivation? Now, be proud to call the 2010-2011 men’s team the CAA runner-ups.

So what did we learn? We learned we should have never doubted the resolve of these 12 men. We learned that VCU has the potential to beat any conference team in the CAA Tournament. And we learned that, even when it could be forgivable, to never, never give up.

Now, we wait for Selection Sunday. And at least we’ll have a reason to be watching.

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