SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — For 35 minutes, Long Beach State wasn’t bothered by Virginia Commonwealth’s trademark defense. In the face of full-tilt “Havoc,” the unranked 49ers held on to the ball, held on to their poise and hit 50 percent from the field.
But they had no answer for the cumulative fatigue that comes with fending off VCU’s furious charge at both ends of the court. Nor did they have an answer for Rams senior forward Juvonte Reddic , whose clutch shots and timely rebounds pulled No. 10 VCU back from the precipice of a second upset in as many days in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
Spurred by Reddic’s 17 points and 10 rebounds and guard Rob Brandenberg’s team-high 18 points, VCU clawed back from an eight-point deficit in the second half to vanquish Long Beach State, 73-67, on Friday at Coliseo Robert Clemente.
With it, the Rams (4-1) earned a date in Sunday’s fifth-place game with Georgetown (2-2), which advanced earlier in the day with a 90-63 rout of Kansas State.
It will be just the second meeting between Georgetown and VCU in the past 35 years and a reprise of their clash in the 2011 NCAA tournament’s first round, which the Rams won in commanding fashion en route to their charmed Final Four run.
Friday’s game against Long Beach State was a seesaw affair with nine ties and 15 lead changes.
Neither led by more than four in the first half. And almost as soon as Long Beach State started pulling away at 50-42, VCU went on a 13-0 run and held sway from there.
Long Beach State Coach Dan Monson conceded afterward the frantic pace that VCU forces wore down his starters. Point guard Mike Caffey never came out of the game.
That fatigue, of course, is the end game of VCU Coach Shaka Smart’s approach to basketball, pressing at both ends of the court and substituting frequently to break down opponents.
“That’s our style of play,” said Smart, whose Rams also shot far better (46 percent) than they had in their humbling loss to Florida State on Thursday. “We want it to be a cumulative effect in any game. And this happens to be the second game played in two days.”
That said, Long Beach State weathered the assault gamely, turning the ball over just 10 times compared with the 22.6 a game averaged by VCU’s first five opponents.
VCU started a bit shaky but got the spark it needed from back-to-back blocks by redshirt freshman Mo Alie-Cox.
Initially troubled by Long Beach State’s zone defense, the Rams shot often from the perimeter to mixed results.
For stretches in the first half, the game was a track meet punctuated only occasionally by shot-taking, unfolding in high-speed spurts. The Rams inched ahead, but Long Beach State pulled even and took a 36-35 lead to the break.
A vocal contingent of VCU fans made the trip to San Juan and bellowed for a comeback while booing every call that went against the Rams.
After Long Beach pulled ahead by eight, VCU’s Briante Weber drove for a pull-up jumper than got the Rams back 50-49. A tip-in by Reddic restored the Rams’ lead with 11:20 remaining, and he struck twice more to cap a 13-0 run.
Note: No. 14 Michigan (4-1) will be the favorite in Sunday’s title game after storming back from a 16-point deficit to turn back Florida State, 82-80, in overtime. The Wolverines’ opponent will be surprise finalist Charlotte (4-1), which advanced with an 86-77 victory over Northeastern (2-3).