RICHMOND, Va. – You can’t replicate it in practice. You can’t fully appreciate it on TV. You have to be here to understand the claustrophobic grip VCU’s Havoc can slip around opposing teams.
On Wednesday, the Rams’ frenzied pressure introduced itself to the Atlantic 10 Conference, namely the Dayton Flyers on this night, before packed Siegel Center. VCU’s trademark defensive pressure, like metal grinding on metal, served as an agent of attrition and pushed Dayton (10-5, 0-1 A-10) into a breakdown state over the course of the game. As legs tired and the intensity rose, the Flyers’ miscues multiplied and allowed the Rams (13-3, 1-0) to pull away for a 74-62 win in the first A-10 game in VCU history.
After just four turnovers in the first eight minutes of the game, Dayton committed 22 in the final 32 minutes. In all, the Rams outscored the Flyers 30-5 off turnovers on the way to their 10th straight victory.
“I think our press had a cumulative effect,” VCU Coach Shaka Smart said in perhaps one of this season’s bigger understatements.
Dayton’s not the first team that saw its chances undercut by gelatinous legs and mounting turnover counts, and the Rams hope it won’t be the last as they embark on their inaugural A-10 season. The Flyers, who never led, pulled within 49-48 on a Jalen Robinson bucket with 14:51 remaining. Over the next nine minutes, Dayton turned the ball over 10 times and watched VCU convert those mistakes into a 17-4 run and a 66-52 lead. Game over.
Flyers’ point guard Kevin Dillard, unquestionably one of the better backcourt players in the league, coughed the ball up seven times. He and his teammates got one of the ruder introductions to VCU chaos guard Briante Weber, who produced nine of VCU’s 15 steals. Prior to this season, no Ram had topped seven steals in a game. Weber has already notched two games better than that this year, including a school-record 10 in VCU’s season-opener.
In the first half, Dayton successfully negotiated the press more often than not. Solid ball movement and press breaks led to a number of wide-open looks for Dayton’s shooters. The Flyers shot 48 percent (12-of-25) in the first half, including 5-of-11 from beyond the 3-point arc. But it wouldn’t last, as VCU imposed its will and eventually wore down Archie Miller’s team. Dayton shot 38 percent (9-of-24) in the second half. After an 8-of-16 start from beyond the 3-point arc in the game, the Flyers missed four of their last five.
Sophomore Treveon Graham enjoyed another outstanding offensive night, scoring a game-high 24 points, but afterwards, the talk was all about defense.
“Just style of play, just playing hard the whole game. That wears people down,” Graham said of the Rams’ second-half run. “Nothing really changed. Just going hard at them for the whole 40 minutes and people get tired and it wears them down.”
The Rams hope to make this a regular thing in the A-10, pressing teams to the brink, much like they did in the Colonial Athletic Association last season. VCU appears more than capable. In addition to nine double-digit wins in its last 10 games, the Rams have created an average of 27.5 turnovers per game in their last six contests.
If VCU keeps its foot on the gas and its pressure at an oppressive level, the Rams will find themselves in the same position at the end of the A-10 season as they did Wednesday: as the last team standing.