RICHMOND, Va. – In six seasons as a head coach, Brad Stevens and No. 20 Butler had never taken a pounding like the one they took Saturday, losing 84-52 to a jacked up VCU team playing its best game of the season.
"Today we laid an egg," Stevens said plainly.
The Bulldogs had a lot of help as VCU's 94-foot pressure defense caused turnovers early, leading to easy points in a 9-2 start, and what the Rams refer to as "havoc" quickly buried the Bulldogs in an avalanche of bad.
Stevens' worst previous loss was a 76-52 drubbing at Milwaukee two years ago.
"You know what you need to do and you can do it on a blueprint," Stevens said of coping with the Rams' pressuring style, "but at the end of the day nobody's going to be able to simulate their speed. It's going to boil down to, to beat that team, you're going to have to get stops. Nobody's going to beat them when they're scoring, because they're just going to force you to play the way they want to play."
The loss was the third in five games for the Bulldogs (22-7, 9-5 Atlantic 10), who dropped into a tie for fourth with Temple in the league race with two regular season games remaining.
Stevens said he was more impressed with VCU than worried about his own team.
"As deep as they want, I guess," he said when asked about the Rams' NCAA tournament prospects. "As deep as the matchups dictate, too. Very few teams are going to beat these guys on a one-day prep."
Especially when the Rams' shots are falling.
Troy Daniels scored 14 of his 20 points in the first half and VCU's full-court pressure overwhelmed the Bulldogs from the outset in a much anticipated rematch of their unlikely meeting in the national semifinals in Houston in 2011. The Rams (23-6, 11-3) forced 14 turnovers in the first half, one more than Butler's average for a game, and converted them into 24 points on their way to a 45-21 lead.
Butler scored the first seven points after halftime to close within 17, but Briante Weber and Treveon Graham each scored five points in a 10-4 run and it was pretty much over, allowing the Rams to clinch one of the top four seeds in the conference tournament later this month in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Roosevelt Jones scored 14 points and Khyle Marshall had 13 for Butler, and Stevens substituted liberally over the last several minutes. The Bulldogs finished with 23 turnovers, matching their season high, and they led to 34 points for VCU. The Rams had eight turnovers leading to two Butler points.
Anticipation was high before the game, with some students even sleeping in tents outside to be sure to get their pick of seats once the doors opened, and once the ball was tipped, VCU was at its best.
The Rams, who didn't press with near the intensity they do now when the teams met in Houston, seemed to overwhelm Butler right from the outset. The Bulldogs turned it over on three of their first five possessions, three straight again a short time later and then again midway through the half.
The Rams, meanwhile, used all the extra possessions and the combination of Juvonte Reddic down low and Daniels from the outside — sometimes way outside — to pour on the offense as the Siegel Center grew deafening. In a 28-8 run, Reddic scored nine points and Daniels had 11, including consecutive 3-pointers and then three free throws when he was hit while launching another shot from about 26 feet.
Butler seemed to figure the pressure out briefly, pulling within 31-17 on top scorer Rotnei Clarke's first field goal, a 3-pointer with 4:46 left, but 3-pointers by VCU's Rob Brandenburg and Graham and three more turnovers by the Bulldogs highlighted a 14-4 run to make it 45-21 at the half.
Graham, whose 3 was his first basket of the game, Reddic and Weber all scored 11 points for the Rams.
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