Saturday, January 20, 2007

VCU outlasts ODU

Two minutes into the basketball game’s second half visiting Old Dominion led Virginia Commonwealth by 12 points. The sold-out Siegel Center crowd of 7,694 could sense that VCU’s then unbeaten-in-the-conference record was in real jeopardy. The shots weren’t falling for the Rams. Breaks didn’t seem to be going their way.

ODU was the first CAA team VCU had faced with a winning record in the league. Those in the room pulling for the Monarchs may have thought they were witnessing the overdue comeuppance for the overachieving Rams, a team thought to be strictly middle-of-the-pack by the preseason experts.

Today, those ODU fans were as wrong as the preseason experts: VCU 80, ODU 75.

Led by point guard Eric Maynor’s play down the stretch -- he finished with 23 points, six assists and five boards -- the Rams outplayed the Monarchs until the final buzzer to seal the victory. Shooting guard B.A. Walker’s 19 points, five boards and three assists were key, as well.

“I tell [Maynor],” said VCU head coach Anthony Grant, “our team is going to go how he goes.”

Coach Grant also spoke proudly of his team’s gritty play in the second half of what was truly a tough game. The Monarchs came to play and they did just that. They handled the Rams’ full-court pressure better than any team I’ve seen this season. This was a first class college basketball game between longtime rivals. Both school’s players gave it their all.

Which leads to having to report that I heard only one person say anything to take away from the high-level tone of the action. In the media room, after Grant, Maynor and Walker answered questions and left, ODU head coach Blaine Taylor made his appearance. He should have skipped it.

Taylor promptly went into a solid five-minute whine about the way the referees called the game. He spoke of how his team had “earned” its 12-point second-half lead. Then he asserted: “...the lead was taken away from them, for whatever reasons.”

It was a rather strange show of no class by a coach I‘ve not seen act that way before. Oh, I’ve seen other coaches go off on the refs after a game, but I can’t remember seeing it quite so unjustified. Taylor credited most of Maynor’s crowd-pleasing success late in the game to bad calls. From what I could tell, no one else in the room saw any credence to his charges.

Plus, Taylor was speaking in front of the CAA’s commissioner, Tom Yeager, who was standing in the back of the crowded room. So, I suppose we’ll just see if any of Taylor’s unseemly crying crossed the line of how far a CAA coach can go with casting aspersions on the integrity/competence of the officials hired by Yeager’s office.

VCU (16-3, 8-0 in CAA) remains atop the CAA’s standings, one game ahead of Hofstra (14-5, 7-1). The Rams will hit the road on Wednesday, to play at George Mason (11-7, 5-3), an outfit that has won five straight games, at 7 p.m.

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