RICHMOND, Va. – Exasperated Richmond Head Coach Chris Mooney sat before a throng of reporters shoehorned into the unremarkable media room in the bowels of VCU’s Siegel Center. He sighed as he before he sought to explain what he’d just witnessed. We were obligated to ask, but it didn’t take a perfect SAT score to figure out that VCU’s “Havoc” wreaking defense had just systematically beat the Spiders into submission.
By the time it was over, a close game had dissolved into a 73-51 punchline. Mooney watched helplessly as his normally steady team, which carried a three-game winning streak into Friday’s anticipated matchup, became unhinged in the face of constant VCU pressure.
“I don’t want to think that…but I also know that’s what the pressure’s designed to do,” Mooney said. “It’s designed to wear you down during the course of the game and of course our guards were in there for such a long time. Maybe it was more indicative of the missed shots. I don’t like to think that’s the case, but it very well could have been.”
VCU’s victory Friday came via the best defensive performance to date from a Rams team that’s earning a rep for chaos creation. The evidence was in every corner of the box score.
The previously sure-handed Spiders entered the game averaging just over 11 turnovers a game, but they had 10 in the first half alone and finished the game with 17. Forward Darrius Garrett committed seven turnovers, as many as the entire VCU team combined. Go-Kart guard Kendall Anthony, Richmond’s leading scorer, was 5-of-18 from the field, including 3-of-11 from 3-point range.
The Spiders’ strength was in their trio of guards, Brothers, Anthony and Cendrick Lindsay, but only Lindsay (22 points) enjoyed any kind of real success, and he was scoreless over the final 7:03. By then, “Havoc” had a vice grip on the outcome.
It took VCU Head Coach Smart just minutes into his introductory press conference to announce, “We want to wreak havoc on our opponents.” It’s becoming exceedingly clear of late that the 2011-12 VCU Rams are what he had in mind.
Smart believes in “Havoc” so completely that it’s stitched into his travel suit bag and his newborn daughter Zora’s onesie. It’s more than a brand of basketball. It’s a frame of mind. He eats and sleeps Havoc. He wants his players to feel the same way. This season, particularly in the last five games, it appears this group of players does.
A couple of weeks ago, junior Troy Daniels hinted at this team’s potential, referring to the Rams as “junkyard dogs.” They’re starting to look just like that. Impetuous, fierce, fearless, hungry.
During his first two seasons, the Rams played the style admirably with a number of players who recruited by the previous coaching staff, guys who were overwhelmingly offensive-minded guys. That’s not a slight on that team. They went to the Final Four. They could play. However, this group of players was born for Smart’s aggressive style of on-court unrest. Quick, athletic guards like Briante Weber, Rob Brandenberg and Darius Theus, not to mention lean,mean big men who can run the floor like Juvonte Reddic.
“No double about it. We’re a little bit taller than last year, little bit longer, little bit more athletic,” Smart said. “When you add [Briante Weber] out there, it gives you a different dimension defensively.
“Last year’s team had much more experience and wisdom on defense. A guy like Ed Nixon was always in the right place at the right time, but I think as we continue to learn and gain some wisdom with our young guys we could be a better defensive team than we were last year.”
On Friday, Richmond looked primed to stun a rabid, sellout crowd of 7,617 when they drew within 47-45 with 11:03 remaining. Anthony and Lindsay were burying shots and the Spiders were holding the line on the defensive end. Then, in a blink, it all collapsed under the collective weight of 30 minutes of non-stop pressure. VCU was swarming Richmond, forcing bad decisions.
The turnovers piled up, Anthony and Lindsay’s shots stopped falling and VCU moved in for the kill. The Rams went on a 22-4 run over the next seven minutes. Turn out the lights. In the second half alone, the Rams outscored Richmond 14-0 off turnovers. It wasn’t just turnovers that won Friday’s game for VCU. It was the Rams’ ability to cut out the legs of the opposition through defensive pressure.
“I thought our style of play had a cumulative effect on Richmond,” Smart said. “Their guards did a nice job all game, but I do think that they got a little tired because of the way that we play and the way that we pressed and I think as the game wore on, a big part of that run was because they were missing some of those outside shots.”
It’s a second half formula that’s bordering on habitual for this squad. In the Rams’ last four victories, each has seen VCU blitz for 30 minutes until the opposition broke like a crumbling dam.
“We wouldn’t say we’re in a good spot,” said senior Bradford Burgess of the Rams’ recent play. “But we’re starting to see the light as far as how good this team could be, especially on the defensive end.”