Rams’ offense fails to deliver in clutch
VCU only 8 of 22 from behind arc in 8-point loss to Butler
HOUSTON – The cliché would be that the clock struck midnight on VCU’s Cinderella run. In reality, the Rams’ offense failed to deliver throughout a 70-62 loss to Butler in the Final Four on Saturday night.
VCU entered the semifinal game hitting 44 percent of its 3-point attempts. The Rams connected on only 8 of 22 attempts against Butler – and maybe more importantly, lost the rebounding battle 48-32.
The Rams’ “Havoc” offense was 23 of 58 (39.7 percent) from the field, and VCU also committed 10 turnovers and scored zero fast-break points.
“[Saturday night] we didn’t have our best, and Butler had a lot to do with that,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said. “They were the better team. I thought the difference was they were more aggressive than us for the majority of the game. That showed on the glass, that showed around the basket, and that’s what allowed them to win.”
From the get-go, Butler played like a team that had been in this position before. VCU played like it didn’t want to make mistakes – and ultimately, the Rams did. Butler outscored VCU 20-8 from the free-throw line.
“You know, they handled our pressure pretty well later in the first half. They made some big shots,” Rams point guard Joey Rodriguez said. “Shelvin Mack made some big shots. You know, when you make shots, they get back on defense. I guess that was really it. Just them making shots on offense and us not being able to get the ball off quick.”
While VCU was lauded for its 3-point shooting throughout its five-game tournament winning streak, the Rams’ inside play was a bright spot. VCU outscored Butler 28-20 in the paint. Forwards Bradford Burgess and Jamie Skeen – the only Rams to score in double digits – combined for 42 points, including a game-high 27 for Skeen.
“You can’t get outrebounded by 16 in a game like this and expect to win,” Smart said. “To be honest with you, we missed a lot of easy shots, too. If those things go down, instead of being down four [points] late, then we might be up two or four.
“There are a few different factors that came into play. But again, Butler was better and deserved to win.”
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“Getting out-rebounded like that, we can't win many ballgames like that,” Burgess added. “[Butler’s] physicality, the boards, rebounding was an example of that. They’re probably the most physical team we played all year, and it showed [Saturday night].”.
Butler’s 1-2 punch of Mack (24 points) and Matt Howard (17) led a trio of Bulldogs in double figures, including Shawn Vanzant with 11. Howard was only 3 of 10 from the field – and 0-for-5 from behind the arc – but converted 11 of 12 free-throw attempts and added eight rebounds. Mack was 5 of 6 from 3-point range.
“That was two really good teams,” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said. “VCU has a lot to be proud of; they inspired a lot of people – including us. They played terrific all the way through. We were fortunate to pull that one out. We had guys make individual plays time and again that were crucial.”
VCU held its largest lead at 15-7 with 13:12 remaining to play in the first half – then Butler reeled off eight consecutive points to tie the game. The teams were knotted at 20 and 22 before Butler surged ahead of a 34-28 advantage at halftime.
The Rams’ final lead, 43-42, came with 12:51 to play.
“I think it was a terrific run,” Smart said, “and all of the credit goes to our players, particularly our seniors. They really led the way and they truly believed in one another and in our system.
“It hurts because we feel like this is a game we could’ve gotten, but we didn’t and Butler moves on and that’s how it goes.”