RICHMOND, Va. – The Colonials probably drove past the billboard touting Havoc on their way into Richmond.
They definitely glimpsed H-A-V-O-C lettered on the back of VCU’s warmups. And they couldn’t avoid the giant black and yellow flag that covered the entire student section, informing GW that “HAVOC Lives Here!”
The subject in question was VCU’s infamous havoc defense, the intense press that was the focus of a recent Sports Illustrated examination and that’s resulted in the Rams leading the nation in total steals, steals per game and forced turnovers per game. Saturday night, it led to an 84-57 loss, the most points an opponent has scored against GW this season.
“Our biggest weakness, aside from our lack of outside shooting ability, is handling pressure,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “This is a game I’ve been worried about for a while, because you can’t really do it in practice – what they’re going to do – unless you put six guys out there. I never thought we would not calm down after a while. And we never really did.”
At first, it seemed as if GW was poised to give VCU a taste of its own medicine, getting out to an 8-2 lead off the strength of its man defense. But the game was soon dominated by Rams runs, which the Colonials tried to halt with a switch into a zone.
Re-evaluating, VCU simply began to attack GW’s zone from the perimeter. Looping in multiple treys over the course of the first, the Rams slowly extended their lead before closing the half on a 14-2 run for an 18-point advantage.
“We tried to play a little 2-3 zone and had two mental lapses there and left the best shooter wide open,” Lonergan said. “That run at the end of the first half killed us. The game was basically over then.”
The Rams were able to supplement their defense with hot-handed shooting on the night, finishing with a 53.5 field goal percentage that included eight three-pointers. Though four players scored in double figures for VCU, particularly potent was junior forward Juvonte Reddic, who finished with 24 points and 10 boards on 11-of-13 shooting.
As VCU’s offensive firepower grew, so too did its defensive crackdown. Unleashing the havoc press, the Rams forced 15 turnovers in the first alone, disrupting GW’s transition.
The Colonials continued to struggle with ball control over the final 20 minutes of play, finishing with 25 total turnovers, tying their highest total of the season. VCU turned the abundance of turnovers into 27 points on the other end. Freshman guard Joe McDonald struggled particularly in the face of the press, turning it over eight times.
“Their pressure is really good, but we turned the ball over a lot on our own,” Lonergan said. “The first play of the game, we threw the ball away for no apparent reason. We definitely were shook a little bit, some guys.”
But even when the Colonials got it past halfcourt, they struggled to find the net, going 5-for-19 in the first half. Though the team upped its percentage in the second half, it still couldn’t assert a true offensive edge, finishing with a 38.9 field goal percentage. Going just 14-for-25 at the line, GW failed to capitalize on valuable opportunities.
“I think it’s mental toughness. It’s not nerves about the game or anything,” freshman forward Patricio Garino said. “We just have to get focused and make the free throws.”
A bright spot for GW was freshman forward Kevin Larsen, who was able to find an advantage inside. He came close to picking up his first collegiate double-double with ten points and nine boards and was also instrumental in aiding GW’s trips down the court.
“It was just me playing with a high intensity level. Coach has talked to me about that all week, so I was just trying to go out and play hot, and it worked,” Larsen said. “But my man scored a lot on me, so I don’t really care about the stat sheet. I’m just trying to improve my defense for the next game.”
Larsen was joined in double-digits by Garino, who added 10 points of his own. McDonald had eight points, while senior forward Dwayne Smith added seven off the bench.
Still, it was the kind of blowout loss GW hasn’t seen recently, and it will fall to Lonergan to ensure it doesn’t crush his team’s confidence moving forward.
“I definitely think there were nerves there,” Lonergan said. “We’ll watch the film on the way back and we have two days to prepare for Fordham.”