Virginia Commonwealth’s basketball warm-up shirts bear one ominous word on the back: “havoc.”
The Rams brought that to Rock Hill on Saturday afternoon, handing the Winthrop men’s basketball team a 90-54 defeat. One of the peskiest defensive teams in college basketball, VCU scored 35 points off 21 Winthrop (1-2) turnovers and led by double digits most of the contest.
“It’s cumulative pressure,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey. “You get a beat on it, you feel like you got it, then all of the sudden you start playing a tick faster than you want to play. They’re comfortable playing at the style; it’s not conducive to success for Winthrop. I think we got lulled into that.”
The Rams (2-1), two years removed from a Final Four appearance, opened the game with a 9-2 run and never trailed, pressing full-court on made baskets much of the game.
“I think you always have to have a very healthy respect for your opponent, no matter who you play,” said Kelsey. “I think the first four minutes was the story of the game. We had too much respect for them. It’s almost like we took the floor and they weren’t human.”
Derrick Henry was the game’s high scorer, leading Winthrop with 23 points, while VCU finished with five players in double figures, led by Juvonte Reddic’s 17. VCU’s bench outscored Winthrop 34-8, and the Rams shot 54 percent from the field. But the visitor’s sticky, inescapable man-to-man defense was the telling difference, producing 13 steals and five blocks, and countless easy looks at the basket.
They have a brand,” said Kelsey, “and it’s ‘havoc,’ and it’s as good as advertised. Those kids believe in it, and they buy into it and play that way every possession.”
It was always going to be tough for Winthrop, with one healthy point guard (sophomore Andre Smith) against Smart’s club. VCU led by 22 at the break (48-26) but the Eagles showed a second half pulse, outscoring the Rams 17-8 in the first six minutes. Henry heated up behind the arc, knocking in four triples during a Winthrop revival that cut VCU’s lead to 56-43.
“Coach came in there and fired us up, told us to forget about the score and just go play hard,” said Henry about the Eagles’ halftime chat. “Credit to them, they weathered the storm. We started turning the ball over, wasn’t executing like we were, and that really hurt us.”
Just as they did in a loss to Indiana State earlier in the week, the Eagles settled for three-point shots, and when they dried up, the visitors took ruthless advantage. Smart’s team ripped off a stunning 23-2 run that coincided with a nearly seven-minute scoring drought by Winthrop. When the dust settled, VCU led 81-47.
“Winthrop gets a lot of credit for that run. I think we were a half step behind in some of our rotations, some of our traps, but they were shooting it in, they were attacking,” said VCU coach Shaka Smart. “They were really playing with aggressiveness, and we had to flip that, stop that run and start our own.”
VCU was held to just 51 points in a Tuesday loss to Wichita State, but they had almost that many points on the board by halftime Saturday. The visitors from Richmond forced five Winthrop turnovers in the first three and a half minutes, four of those off steals. Troy Daniels converted a Darius Theus steal into an easy lay-up forcing a timeout from Kelsey with less than four minutes played and his team trailing 9-2.
Smith had the weight of the Eagles on his shoulders as the only healthy point guard, but Xavier’s relentless, cumulative pressure never lapsed.
“If we were a pitching staff at point guard, we’d be Andre, Andre, Andre and pray for rain,” quipped Kelsey.
Henry handled some of the point duties, as did a host of other Eagles, but it’s no fun to play against the Rams. Their defense rattles the game’s rhythm, makes it all syncopation, five hard dribbles and suddenly nowhere to go with the ball and a sideline looming. Bebop basketball.
“They set the tempo for the way they want to play,” said Henry afterward. “We fell into their trap.”
VCU shot nearly 60 percent in the first half, hitting 8-of-15 three-pointers to quickly put distance between themselves and the hosts. Larry Brown tipped in an Eagle miss at the rim, then finished off a Henry-led fastbreak to cut the Rams’ lead to 14-8, but Treveon Graham buried a three and Daniels drained a triple despite Henry’s best efforts, part of a 12-2 run that put VCU ahead 26-10 with about 10 minutes left in the half. The Rams maintained at least a double-digit lead the rest of the way.
|VCU 90, WINTHROP 54|
Percentages: FG .545, FT .850. 3-Point Goals: 13-25, .520 (Weber 4-6, Daniels 3-4, Theus 2-3, Johnson 2-3, Graham 2-3, Reddic 0-1, Okereafor 0-1, Brandenberg 0-4). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 5 (Haley 2, Weber, Hinton, Reddic). Turnovers: 13 (Theus 4, Okereafor 4, Guest, Tuoyo, Johnson, Brandenberg, Graham). Steals: 13 (Okereafor 3, Reddic 2, Haley 2, Theus 2, Graham, Johnson, Daniels, Brandenberg). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .360, FT .706. 3-Point Goals: 6-18, .333 (Henry 4-8, Johnson 1-1, Smith 1-5, Brown 0-1, Gamble 0-1, Farmer 0-2). Team Rebounds: 5. Blocked Shots: 0. Turnovers: 21 (Smith 6, Jerome 3, Gamble 3, Henry 2, Bourne 2, Brown 2, Johnson 2, Farmer). Steals: 5 (Henry 2, Brown, Smith, Gamble). Technical Fouls: None.
Att.–1,726. Officials–Chuck Jones, Art Vaulk, Damon Williams.