Michigan wreaks havoc on VCU, ends Rams’ season in NCAA tournament second round

Michigan’s Trey Burke probed his way through Virginia Commonwealth’s defense, trying to maneuver past guard Briante Weber. Little did Weber know, two worlds would soon collide.

In an instant, Weber ran into a 6-foot-10, 250-pound brick wall wearing a white jersey. Michigan freshman Mitch McGary’s screen left Weber laying prone on the ground and Burke, after glancing down to survey the carnage, calmly knocked down another jumper.

Havoc, VCU’s vaunted style of defense, had met its match.

There will be no magical Final Four run for the Rams this year, as they were undone by poor shooting and a bigger, stronger Big Ten opponent that put on perhaps its best performance of the year. No. 5 seed VCU fell to No. 4 seed Michigan, 78-53, in a South Region second-round matchup on Saturday afternoon.

The Wolverines will play in the round of 16 for the first time since 1994.

The Rams could offer little resistance with Michigan unfazed by the chaos that has led to VCU routs all too often the past three years. Instead, Coach Shaka Smart suffered the most lopsided loss of his head coaching career.

“It’s a terrible feeling. It’s hard to go out there and play with emotion when they’re just hitting everything,” Weber said. “They’re breaking the press. Getting open threes. Layups. Missing, then they’re getting offensive rebounds and making layups. It’s just tough.”

Burke committed seven turnovers but also finished with 18 points and seven assists as he navigated through the Rams’ defense all afternoon. Teammates Tim Hardaway Jr. (14 points) and Glenn Robinson III (14 points) picked up the ballhandling slack whenever VCU forced the ball out of Burke’s hands. But it was McGary’s coming-out party that ultimately ended the Rams season.

In just his fourth start this season, he scored 21 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, both career highs. Though forwards Juvonte Reddic and Treveon Graham led VCU with 16 and 11 points, respectively, the Rams’ undersize front line had no answers. Michigan won the rebounding battle, 41-24, and scored 40 points in the paint, including several highlight-reel dunks.

“He just outworked me,” Reddic said of McGary.

Even worse, VCU went just 3 of 16 from three-point range, and the inability to hit shots until the game was well out of reach — the Rams shot just 39.7 percent from the field — neutered Smart’s trademark press. The Wolverines, meantime, connected on 51.7 of their field goal attempts.

It was a far cry from VCU’s NCAA tournament opener, when the Rams couldn’t seem to miss as they blitzed Akron, 88-42, the most one-sided game ever between a No. 5 seed and a No. 12 seed. The Rams are now the first team in NCAA tournament history to lose by 25 points after winning its previous game by 40 points.

“They were able to, when they did break the press, really make us pay,” Smart said.

Early on, though, VCU established the frantic pace that usually is quite successful. But after starting the game 7 of 13 from the field, the Rams watched starters Darius Theus and Reddic pick up two fouls and went cold the rest of the first half.

They made just three of their final 20 shots before halftime, although for a time Michigan reciprocated. The two teams combined to miss 12 straight field goal attempts at one point, but the Wolverines snapped out of their shooting slump. And with a crowd dominated by maize- and blue-clad fans growing louder with each VCU miss, Michigan surged.

The Wolverines went on a 20-4 run and took a 17-point lead, tied for the largest deficit the Rams have faced all season. McGary capped off the sequence with his thunderous screen.

“I didn’t hear anybody call it out and he lowered his shoulder into me,” Weber said. “I got a quick headache.”

Once Burke followed with an alley-oop to Robinson, Smart immediately called timeout. During the stoppage in play, he had to be restrained by his assistants as he screamed at an official about what he thought was an illegal blind-side pick.

But it was to no avail. The Wolverines had already given Smart a taste of his own medicine, overwhelming the Rams with a mix of talent and physicality they had rarely seen before.

“Any time you lose, it’s disappointing. Any time you lose by the margin we lost, it’s even more disappointing,” Smart said. “That’s a tough pill to swallow.”

Mark Giannotto covers Virginia and Virginia Tech for The Washington Post.
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