After Virginia Commonwealth’s stunning run to the Final Four a year ago, nobody is calling the Rams a Cinderella this time around. But make no mistake, Coach Shaka Smart’s group is still more than happy to wreak havoc on brackets nationwide.
The 12th-seeded Rams added to their list of recent NCAA tournament accomplishments Thursday, defeating No. 5 seed Wichita State, 62-59, Thursday night in a South region round of 64 game that was the most exciting contest during a day when chalk mostly prevailed in the brackets.
VCU became the first lower-seeded team to win a game in this year’s NCAA tournament and will face either Indiana or New Mexico State Saturday with a chance to advance to the Sweet 16 for a second consecutive season.
Using Smart’s trademark “havoc” style of play, VCU upped the tempo and played pressure defense throughout to overcome Wichita State’s size advantage inside. But just like the Colonial Athletic Association tournament championship game against Drexel, the Rams didn’t secure the victory without some tense moments.
Wichita State had a chance to tie the score on its final possession after VCU’s Darius Theus gave the Rams a three-point lead with 18 seconds remaining in regulation. But Wichita State 7-footer Garrett Stutz missed a three-pointer to give VCU another postseason upset.
VCU took a nine-point lead into halftime and watched it expand to as much as 13 to start the second half, but Wichita State clawed its way back into the game. The Shockers went on a 9-2 run thanks to the exploits of guard David Kyles and trailed by just six at the under-12 media timeout.
Wichita State soon cut the deficit to one, 54-53, when guard Joe Ragland (team-high 15 points) hit a three-pointer and Stutz followed with a lay-in.
From there, the two teams began exchanging three-pointers. First VCU’s Troy Daniels hit one, then Wichita State’s Toure’ Murry and Ragland responded with consecutive three-pointers to give the Shockers their first lead of the second half. On the Rams’ ensuing possession, however, leading scorer Bradford Burgess (game-high 16 points) gave VCU the lead again, 60-59, on a three-pointer of his own with 1 minute 33 seconds left to set up the exciting final moments.
As expected, VCU and Wichita State went back-and-forth early on, but the Rams closed the first half on a 13-1 run. The catalyst was Burgess, who scored nine points in a span of less than five minutes to ignite VCU.
The Shockers, meanwhile, struggled to generate much offense and finished the first half shooting under 30 percent from the floor.
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