November 21, 2014

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NCAA tournament: Flu-stricken Zips no match for VCU

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — VCU set an NCAA Tournament record with the largest victory by a fifth-seeded team over a No. 12.

And it could’ve been an even bigger rout.

Troy Daniels had 23 points, Juvonte Reddic scored 21 and the Rams throttled Akron 88-42.

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The previous mark by a fifth-seeded team against a 12th-seeded squad was set by Wyoming in a 35-point win over Howard in 1981 and matched by Tennessee against Long Beach State in 2007, according to STATS.

The Rams (27-8) will play fourth-seeded Michigan on Saturday for a spot in the round of 16.

Akron (26-7) was seriously short-handed, and it showed.

In addition to playing without suspended point guard Alex Abreu, the Zips had other problems as well. Starting guard Brian Walsh and reserve center Pat Forsythe were limited by the flu, and reserve guard Deji Ibitayo wasn’t even in uniform because of back spasms.

The way VCU played, though, Akron might’ve had a lot of trouble even if it was at full strength.

VCU looks as though it might have what it takes to make another run in the NCAA Tournament. But unlike its 2011 trip to the Final Four, hardly anyone would be shocked if the Rams win three more games to reach the national semifinals.

Rams coach Shaka Smart wants his players to wreak havoc with a full-court press and a fast-paced offense, and they did just that against the Zips.

Without Abreu, who was arrested on drug trafficking charges two weeks ago, Akron struggled to simply get the ball to the other end of the court.

VCU forced the Zips into 10-second violations twice in less than a minute early in the game after they led 6-4, and the Rams scored 10 straight points to take control for good.

The Atlantic 10 team sealed the victory by closing the first half with a 16-3 run.

The only question in the second half was how large the winning margin would be, and Smart wasn’t going to be satisfied with his reserves cruising to an easy victory.

With his team up by 40 midway through the second half, Smart didn’t show any mercy on his former boss and close friend, Akron coach Keith Dambrot. Smart left his starters in the game until there were about seven minutes left.

The Rams kept pressing, making behind-the-back passes, hitting layups and draining 3-pointers along with an alley-oop dunk in a relentlessly dominating performance.

Smart didn’t stop coaching even when his team was leading 65-34 with 15:04 left.

Before addressing his players in a huddle, Smart started the timeout with a face-to-face conversation with Daniels — their noses inches apart — perhaps pointing him toward improving for his next test against the previously top-ranked Wolverines.

VCU’s Rob Brandenberg complemented Daniels and Reddic by scoring 14 points.

Demetrius Treadwell scored 15 and Zeke Marshall had 11 points for the Mid-American Conference champion Zips, who shot below 35 percent.

While forcing turnovers, VCU took good care of the basketball when it was on offense.

VCU forced 22 turnovers and gave up the ball just seven times — at least once at the end of the game on purpose — to narrowly miss another feat. Since 1990, the largest turnover differential when one team had seven or fewer turnovers was 16 set by Syracuse in 1996 against Mississippi State and matched by Utah State against Ohio State in 2001,
according to STATS.

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