AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Blowout. Disappointment. Hope.
These three words accurately sum up VCU’s 78-53 loss to Michigan Saturday afternoon.
In a hostile environment, the Rams took the court against the Wolverines for a chance to move on to the Sweet Sixteen. VCU knew ahead of time that Michigan was not going to be an easy team to overcome.
The Wolverines blew out the Rams in convincing fashion.
“I thought Michigan was terrific today and they played great every facet of the game,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “As for us, (it) just was not our best game.”
It started out with a pair of Treveon Graham free throws to give the Rams the lead after the tip. On the ensuing possession, Juvonte Reddic picked up his first foul and Michigan knocked down a pair of free throws to even the game at two.
The Rams got in trouble early when Darius Theus picked up a pair of fouls within 30 seconds of each other less than three minutes into the game. To make matters worse, Reddic picked up his second foul with 13 minutes to go in the half.
“Those two are arguably our best two players,” Smart said. “I think the officials were kind of letting the game go a little bit, which is good this year, but unfortunately Darius and Juvonte were called for those two quick fouls.”
“I don’t think that’s the only reason we lost,” he continued.
When Reddic picked up his second foul, the score was 16-11 in favor of Michigan. The absence of Reddic in the first half allowed Michigan’s 6-foot-10, 250 pound freshman, Mitch McGary, to completely take over the game.
Over the final 13 minutes of the half, the Wolverines would extend that lead to 15 and go into the half up 38-23.
At the half, VCU was shooting 10-for-33 from the field, and a mediocre 1-for-8 from beyond the arc. Troy Daniels, who was hot in the previous game against Akron, was ice cold. Daniels didn’t make a single basket in the first half, missing all six attempts.
Graham led the team with nine points. For Michigan, Trey Burke and Glenn Robinson III led the way with 21 points combined. McGary grabbed nine rebounds while chipping in six points as well.
The first few minutes in the second half were truly make-or-break for VCU. It started out well with the Rams forcing three turnovers and scoring four points in the first three minutes. But, Michigan would not lie down and thanks to a dominating performance from McGary, kept the lead just out of VCU’s reach. And, following suit with the first half, VCU missed basket after basket.
“The shots that were open, we didn’t make. Sometimes it happens like that,” Rob Brandenberg said. “They did a good job defending me, defending Troy.”
At the 6 minute and 11 second mark, Michigan had extended their lead to 31 points and basically sealed the deal. Troy Daniels hit his first three-pointer of the night with just over 90 seconds to go – about fifteen minutes too late.
The final buzzer sounded and the large pro-Michigan crowd erupted in applause. Disappointment riddled each and every VCU basketball member’s face.
A big factor in Michigan’s success was their ability to break the press so easily, which led to a lot of open baskets and some effective give-and-go plays.
“I wasn’t surprised. We didn’t have that same energy, that same spirit we needed to get the job,” Brandenberg said. “They took advantage of that and got open threes.”
McGary’s performance was just the icing on the cake for Michigan and proved how difficult it is for VCU to guard against a dominant big man. He finished the night with 21 points, 14 rebounds and honestly, it felt like more.
“He was very strong in the post,” Reddic said. “He got the better end of the game…I expected him to be physical like he was tonight.”
“He was terrific,” Smart said. “He was very good on the defensive end. I certainly didn’t know he was going to have 21 and 14 against us, but, you know, that’s what good players do at this time of year, they step up and play their best.”
The loss was VCU’s largest in an NCAA tournament game, and the largest loss since Smart took over the program.
“They were just the better team today,” Smart said. “That’s really all I can say in terms of that.”
As for how far he thinks Michigan can progress, Smart said, “If they continue playing the way they did today, they got a chance to go a long way in this tournament.”
But, Smart kept his head up about the loss and is optimistic about the future of VCU basketball.
“I think we’re one of seven programs in the whole country that’s won an NCAA tournament game each of the last three years,” Smart said. “I think that says a lot about what our guys have done and the progress we’ve made as a program.”