Recap: VCU falls in ugly battle to #5 Duke

Before the season, Coach Smart said, “Every time we take the floor, we believe we can win.” It showed Friday night as Virginia Commonwealth University gave #5 Duke their fiercest challenge of the season in a 67-58 loss.

Before the season, Coach Smart said, “Every time we take the floor, we believe we can win.” It showed Friday night as Virginia Commonwealth University gave #5 Duke their fiercest challenge of the season in a 67-58 loss.


It took VCU less than two minutes to jump out to a 6-0 lead and force a Duke timeout. The Rams were dictating the tempo, rebounding the basketball, and scoring, but Duke left that first timeout with infinitely more poise.

The Blue Devils captured and pushed a first half lead to as much as five points, but VCU answered with back to back three pointers. At the break, Duke led 29-28, but both teams entered the locker rooms frustrated at halftime.

Duke exited the locker room under control, and an early 9-0 run put them up 44-32. VCU looked flat, but Briante Weber entered the game with 13 minutes remaining and energized the Rams. Then Juvonte Reddic scored on three consecutive plays including an emphatic dunk.

Duke had the lead, 56-50, with 7:56 remaining but VCU had the momentum. That is until the Rams missed six straight free-throws including the front end of two one-and-ones. In the biggest stretch of the biggest game of the season, VCU left eight potential points on the free-throw line and it cost them the game. All Duke had to do was continue its brilliant 24-27 free-throw shooting performance until the clock expired.

The Ram’s full-court pressure is designed to force turnovers and force offenses to put the ball in the hands of their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th options on offense, but it failed to do so against Duke. On countless plays, the Blue Devils inbounded the basketball to 6-foot-10 Mason Plumlee. With the skills to handle the basketball, Plumlee either found Duke’s first option in a guard or Plumlee dribbled the ball through pressure himself. The key to Duke’s composure was their willingness to take the full 10-seconds to cross the timeline while many teams rush frantically across mid-court.

This simple strategy enabled Duke to maintain a slow tempo and limit turnovers. Compounding the problem was VCU’s inability to hit shots. The Rams’ full-court defense rarely gets the opportunity to set up after missed baskets. Shooting .333 from the field, VCU received fewer opportunities to disrupt Duke’s transition offense.

While Coach Mike Krzyzewski limited Duke’s rotation to 6.5 players, it only took Coach Smart 10 minutes to play 11/12ths of VCU’s team. The Rams tried using their signature HAVOC! to wear down Duke’s shallow but skilled roster, but the Blue Devils weathered the storm by getting to the free-throw line and making stops on the defensive end.

Duke was particularly successful in shutting down Darius Theus and Rob Brandenberg. After lighting up #19 Memphis, Brandenberg finished 0-5 from 3-point range and Darius Theus couldn’t get his shots to fall finishing 3-13 from the field with only two assists. Like last season, Rob Brandenberg appears to be struggling with totally unpredictable inconsistency.

The game was not without controversial calls, but VCU and only VCU lost this game. Like the Wichita State game, the Rams left too many points at the free-throw line and missed too many easy buckets.

For Ram fans, it was a painful game to watch, but there is a silver lining. These are the games that VCU remembers come the middle of March when they put on their dancing shoes. These losses fuel the fire that make the Rams the least desirable opponent in the NCAA tournament.

Top Ram: Juvonte Reddic

16Pts, 12Reb, 1Stl, 1Blk

Juvonte Reddic grabbed a career high 13 rebounds Friday night while matched up against one of the premier big men in college basketball: Mason Plumlee. While Plumlee scored 17 points, Reddic played an impressive game on both ends of the court during a team leading 36 minutes. Reddic was 8-15 from the field, but it felt like he could have attempted more shots. The junior forward was clearly capable of scoring in the low post, but he was left finding his own shot on mid range jumpers and off of offensive rebounds.

5 stats

  • VCU lost by 9 points, their largest margin of defeat since losing to Georgia Tech 73-60 on November 18th, 2011.
  • The Rams only tallied 4 assists, the fewest in the Shaka Smart era and the fewest since February 9th, 2005.
  • VCU forced just 8 turnovers, their fewest since March 20th, 2011 in a 94-76 rout of #3 seeded Purdue.
  • VCU out-rebounded Duke 38-32. The Rams have matched or out-rebounded their first five opponents for the first time since the 2000-2001 season which is great news for their small ball lineups.
  • VCU shot a rough 4-20 (.200) from 3-point range, but limited a talented Duke team to 3-16 (.188) from beyond the arc.

Looking forward

VCU will face #13 Missouri Saturday night at 7:00 PM on the NBC Sports Network (Comcast 226 & DirecTV 220 & Verizon 90/ 590 HD).

Missouri is a talented team, but the Tigers are without their best player, senior Michael Dixon, due to an indefinite suspension, and they have yet to add Oregon transfer Jabari Brown.

Friday night offered valuable insights into Missouri because #2 Louisville played extensive full court defense. Missouri turned the ball over 22 times and SEC preseason player of the year, point guard Phil Pressey, turned the ball over nine times. VCU will try to replicate Louisville’s success.

Last season’s guard heavy Missouri had the nation’s most efficient offense. The Tigers led the nation in effective field goal percentage and rarely turned the ball over, but the season ended in distaster. Led by Kyle O’Quinn, 15th seeded Norfolk State beat the loaded 2011-12 Missouri Tigers 86-84.

This season, despite losing so many key pieces from last season’s elite squad, expectations are high for Missouri. Coach Shaka Smart and Co. will try to capitalize on Missouri’s inexperience and lack of chemistry while handing them a second early season loss.

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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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