SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Reveling in the first regular season top-10 ranking in school history, Virginia Commonwealth ran up against an opponent in Thursday’s opener at the Puerto Rico Tip-off that wasn’t addled by its vaunted pace or aggressive press defense.
Florida State matched the Rams’ torrid tempo with ease, dominated the boards and drove for high-percentage, unselfish shots to hand VCU its first defeat, leading by as much as 30 at one point.
When the buzzer sounded, bringing an end to the Seminoles’ 85-67 rout, the only Havoc that had been on display at the Coliseo Roberto Clemente was that done to the tournament’s bracket. The highest-ranked team in the field of eight, No. 10 VCU, was the third favorite to fall on opening day, joining Kansas State, which was upended by Charlotte, and Georgetown, which was thoroughly humbled by Northeastern, earlier in the day.
With the victory, Florida State (4-0) advanced to a second-round meeting against No. 14 Michigan, spoiling the highly anticipated clash between the Wolverines and VCU that would have reprised the teams’ NCAA tournament meeting last spring, which Michigan won en route to the title game.
Michigan (3-1) advanced earlier Thursday with an 85-61 victory over Long Beach State. The Wolverines set a tournament record for three-pointers in the game, connecting on 14 of their 30 attempts.
Placing four players in double figures, Florida State toppled VCU in convincing style, shooting 54 percent from the field to the Rams’ 29 percent and winning the rebounding battle 50-33.
VCU Coach Shaka Smart gave all credit to the Seminoles.
“This was definitely a wake-up call — a realization that we can’t just take the floor and be who we want to be,” Smart said. “We’ve got to make it happen.”
Relegated to the consolation bracket, VCU (3-1) will face Long Beach State on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Thursday’s game was the first meeting between the Rams and Seminoles since the 72-71 overtime thriller in the 2011 NCAA tournament’s round of 16, which VCU won en route to the Final Four.
Though unranked, FSU entered the game averaging 86.7 points, having defeated previous opponents by an average of 21.3. The Seminoles had a size advantage, as well, starting two 6-foot-9 forwards and a 7-3 center while bringing a 7-1 reserve off the bench.
The game unfolded in a high-speed blur of strips at one end of the court and dunks at the other.
FSU turned the ball over five times in the first five minutes alone, helping the Rams jump out to an 8-2 lead.
But Florida State pulled even and then pulled away, shooting 68 percent at one point, to take a 36-22 lead with four minutes remaining in the first half.
The Rams struggled beyond the arc (5 for 23), unable to hit a three-pointer until 1:54 remained in the first half.
FSU led 48-36 at the half and broke the game open with a 16-2 run to start the second period.
Said Smart: “We allowed our offensive difficulties to frustrate us, splinter us and turn us into a much worse defensive team. I thought they were the more aggressive team — really highly motivated, talking more out there and more connected as a team. All the things we pride ourselves on, they had the edge in tonight.”
Though troubled by his team’s 25 turnovers, Seminoles Coach Leonard Hamilton said he was proud of the way his players shared the ball rather than trying to play the hero.
“It’s one of those fundamental basketball demons,” Hamilton said of turnovers, which has been a weakness of his squad. “But I thought we made up for it with our effort and unselfish spirit and really fighting on the boards.”