AUBURN HILLS, MICH.: With friends like these, who needs enemies?
Former University of Akron assistant Shaka Smart, a close friend of Zips coach Keith Dambrot, and his VCU Rams bullied the Zips 88-42 at The Palace of Auburn Hills on Thursday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament as the Zips had to contend with the flu bug affecting the team.
Senior starting guard Brian Walsh spent Wednesday night into Thursday morning being treated for the flu, backup freshman center Pat Forsythe took intravenous fluids before the game, and adding insult to misery, reserve guard Deji Ibitayo sat out with a bad back.
All of that had little effect on what VCU accomplished.
The Rams created havoc, and it was clear from the onset that UA wasn’t up to the task of handling it as VCU forced 22 turnovers as Smart pressed for much of the game.
“He had a job to do,” Dambrot said of Smart. “His job is to get him ready for the next game. I don’t take any offense to it. He did what he had to do. … This is a big boys game. You have to put your pants and take your butt whippings sometimes.”
Smart said that keeping the pressure on was a matter of circumstance.
“There was a lot of time on the clock,” he said, “so we’re not just going to fall back and play zone. It’s not what we do.”
Junior forward Demetrius Treadwell led the way for the Zips with 15 points and seven rebounds. He was followed by center Zeke Marshall with 11 points and five rebounds.
The Rams’ Troy Daniels and Juvonte Reddic dominated offensively for Rams scoring 23 and 21 points respectively. Daniels connected on 6-of-11 3-pointers.
Not only did VCU live up to their billing as ball hawks, they dazzled with just how methodical it proved to be. By the 13:13 mark of the first half, VCU took a 21-9 lead courtesy of a 17-3 run and didn’t look winded in the process. The Zips had come back from 20-point deficits twice during the regular season, but that wasn’t happening in this game. The Rams swarmed the ballhanders, forcing mistakes, and converted easy shots.
Anytime the Zips sniffed getting back into game courtesy of a couple of decent possessions, the Rams beat them back.
By the time the first half wound down, Treadwell was the only player to find any traction against VCU, backing Rams defenders down to bump and grind his way to the hoop for hard-earned layups.
Two barometers showed just how badly things went for the Zips.
The Zips normally rebound with great success, but the Rams held an advantage there early on, even beating them on the offensive glass, but the Rams played them to a stalemate there and kept them from getting any edge. They outrebounded the Zips 36-29 overall.
As for the other — their size advantage — that went up in a cloud of smoke produced by the blazing speed that the Rams’ players showcased for 40 minutes.
The Zips might have thought they knew what they were in for, but nothing could prepare them for the Rams’ ability to overwhelm their frontcourt.
They rendered Marshall inconsequential in the paint offensively, and they attacked him directly defensively.
“As coach said in the locker room, we got our legs taken out trying to get the ball up the floor,” Marshall said.
Smart took a perceived strength — the Zips’ frontcourt — and attacked it directly, eventually outscoring them in the paint 40-28.
And though he tried, as he did several times during the course of the season, Treadwell couldn’t do it alone.
“That might be one of the toughest teams in college basketball to face,” Treadwell said of the Rams’ press. “They are like bulldogs out there on defense.”
For all practical purposes the game ended at halftime with a 50-25 score. The Rams smelled blood and completed their task, outscoring the Zips 38-17 in the second half and winning the game amidst a dwindling crowd and a cavernous arena occupied by the Zips faithful and Rams fans bursting at the seams to celebrate.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.