RICHMOND, Va. – Second half defense had been troublesome, actually, downright alarming for VCU this season.
Prior to Wednesday’s 69-46 win over South Florida at the Verizon Wireless Arena, the Rams had allowed their opponents to shoot 56 percent in the second half. That includes Sunday’s loss at 13th-ranked Alabama, when the Crimson shot 62 percent in the final 20 minutes on the way to a 72-64 triumph.
The Rams decided that wasn’t happening again on Wednesday.
“We talked about that at the half,” VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart said of the Rams’ second half effort. “Second half defense has been a big emphasis of ours because we’ve struggled to stop teams in the second half.”
Smart may want to bottle that halftime speech and sell it. The Bulls shot a paltry 26 percent (6-of-23) after the break, including 0-of-6 from beyond the 3-point arc. As a result, VCU outscored USF 41-18 in the second half as a 28-all tie became a laugher.
VCU’s frenzied defense wore down and disrupted the Bulls, who calmly weathered “Havoc” to hit 12-of-25 shots in the first half. The second was a different story, as turnovers and contested shots piled up. South Florida crumbled as the Rams used a 19-4 run to take a commanding 53-35 lead with 9:33 remaining.
“They were aggressive and it started to bother us in the second half,” said Bulls’ Coach Stan Heath. “We didn’t handle it well. VCU kept the pressure on and we didn’t handle it the way we were supposed to.”
“That’s been the Achillies heel for us this season, second half defense,” said Rams’ guard Bradford Burgess. “It shows in all our games. When we sit down and get stops, we win. Just like last game at Alabama, they shot like 62 percent in the second half and we lost.”
BIGS PLAYING BIG
It sounds a little strange to ask Juvonte Reddic and D.J. Haley to play “big”. They’re 6-foot-9 and 7-feet tall, respectively. That feels like asking a couch to sit tight.
But Reddic and Haley were big to VCU’s cause Wednesday. South Florida came in with the more physical reputation and stats that said they were the superior rebounding team. Instead, the VCU sophomore duo led an impressive performance by the Rams’ frontcourt.
Reddic finished with 5 points, 9 rebounds and a blocked shot, while Haley provided 6 points and 4 rebounds in 16 minutes. They were rugged defensively and supplied just enough offense to keep the Bulls honest. They weren’t flashy, sexy minutes, but rather, gritty and workmanlike.
VCU, which had been out rebounded in four of six games prior to Wednesday’s game, out boarded USF 34-27. The Rams also outscored the Bulls 28-26 in the paint.
South Florida’s Ron Anderson Jr. one of three touted Bulls’ forwards, finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, but was a non-factor in the second half (6 points, 4 rebounds).
“I thought all the posts for VCU, they came out and they really executed their game plan for the most part very well,” Anderson Jr. said. “Going into the second half, I felt like their bigs, they turned it up a second notch.”
Both Haley and Reddic were members of last year’s VCU team that lost to the Bulls 60-59 in overtime in Tampa. South Florida out rebounded VCU by 10 in that game and grabbed 19 offensive boards. It was a different story this time around.
“They were huge defensively,” said Smart “South Florida beat us up physically last year down there with their big guys. I thought D.J. and Juvonte gave us a physical presence inside. They didn’t back down.”
NUMBERS THAT MATTER
- Junior guard Troy Daniels, who was 3-of-17 from 3-point range in VCU’s last three games, hit 5-of-9 Wednesday night. “His confidence was wavering a little bit, but his teammates and his coaches have been emphasizing the last couple of days that we believe in him, and if he’s open, we want him to shoot the ball and he rewarded us,” Smart said.
- Junior point guard Darius Theus, who entered the game with nearly as many turnovers (25) as assists (27), did not turn the ball over on the way to a 13-point, 6-assist performance. The Rams committed just eight turnovers all night. To that end…
- VCU scored 24 points off turnovers. USF had just seven. The Rams also grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and had 20 second chance points.
- The Rams’ bench outscored South Florida’s 30-6.
- Wednesday’s announced attendance of 7,617 marked VCU’s sixth straight sellout, dating back to last season, a school record. There are a limited number of tickets remaining for the Rams’ next home game, Dec. 9 against Richmond. The CAA record is nine straight sellouts, set held by UNC Wilmington.