VCU's renowned pressure defense is known as "havoc," and it just needs a little more work this early in the season.
The Rams started the Battle 4 Atlantis with an effective defense in a win over No. 19 Memphis but it just wasn't the same in a semifinal loss to No. 5 Duke and Saturday's 68-65 loss to No. 13 Missouri in the third-place game.
"It's a work in progress, as it usually is this time of year," Rams coach Shaka Smart said. "I think it was the best on the first night of the tournament. I think Memphis is a terrific team with great guards. I think we had the most energy that night. We don't make excuses, but I speak for all eight teams, that was the game when everyone was the most fresh, and it showed in our press.
"Against Duke, they did a nice job with the big guys breaking the press. I thought tonight our energy was better than Friday night, but when you're pressing one of the best guards in the nation, that's tough, but we got to get a lot better with the press."
The guard Smart referred to is Missouri junior Phil Pressey, the Southeastern Conference preseason player of the year, who had 11 points, eight assists and two huge shots on Saturday.
Pressey bounced back from the semifinal loss to No. 2 Louisville where he committed eight turnovers.
"It's a good way to start your season off, because we played three great teams," Pressey said. "We learned something new every single game."
Like Pressey can make big 3-pointers and baskets that go directly to the highlight reel.
Pressey gave the Tigers (5-1) the lead for good with a 3-pointer with 1:17 to play. That capped a run of five straight possessions where the teams exchanged the lead.
The Rams (3-3) turned the ball over with 57 seconds left. The Tigers called a timeout with 10 seconds left on the shot clock. Pressey took the inbounds, dribbled off a few seconds, then made a move to the basket where he ducked under a VCU player and hit a flip shot as the shot clock hit zero.
"Just the way we drew it up," Missouri coach Frank Haith said jokingly. "When you're a great player you have to work on tough and awkward shots. But he does practice those one-foot shots, the step-back 3, and he goes at it full speed. If you have a chance to do it in a game you have to do it at full speed. And he does."
Troy Daniels of VCU missed a 3 and the Tigers ran out the clock.
"During the offseason I worked on those every single day," Pressey said of the clincher. "My teammates have confidence in me to take those shots. It's a big trust factor. I feel like they trust me to shoot them and that helps me out.
"I don't look at myself as a go-to scorer. When the opportunity presents itself I score, but I'm a playmaker. Playmaking can lead to a lot of things."
Laurence Bowers had 14 points and 11 rebounds for Missouri, which committed 23 turnovers in the loss to Louisville. They had 14 against VCU, including five by Pressey.
"It was a hard-fought game. Give a lot of credit to Missouri. They made some shots down the stretch," Smart said. "Pressey has to be one of the best point guards in the country. I thought he distributed all night long."
Negus Webster-Chan and Keion Bell had 12 points apiece for Missouri while Earnest Ross added 11.
"That's the strength of our team: balance," Bowers said. "I don't know how many guys had a good game. That was the key for us winning, having that overall balance was the key to winning."
VCU lost to No. 5 Duke in the semifinals. The Rams had been 23-6 in games following losses under Smart.
Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic both had 12 points for the Rams while Rob Brandenberg added 11.
"I'm proud how we fought back both nights," Brandenberg said. "We played well enough to win, gut we got to take care of the little things. We'll get better."