If battling the hottest team in the Atlantic 10 in a sold-out Siegel Center wasn’t a tall enough order, men’s basketball was also without its leading scorer for much of Wednesday night’s matchup with VCU.
Graduate student forward Tyler Cavanaugh, who averaged 21.0 points across GW’s last two games, played only 21 minutes after getting into foul trouble in the first half and finished the contest with just six points. Up against the first-place Rams (14-3, 4-0 A-10) in search of an eighth consecutive victory, having him on the bench was the last thing the visitors needed.
VCU’s dominance on both sides of the ball was subsequently magnified, as the Colonials (9-8, 1-2 A-10) found themselves on the wrong end of a blowout, 85-55 decision in which the Rams shot 52 percent to GW’s 37.
“We did some good things with Tyler out – in retrospect I probably shouldn’t have played him in the first half with two [fouls] – but he’s a fifth year senior and you know, that’s going to happen,” interim head coach Maurice Joseph said. “Some other guys stepped up but we just didn’t hit enough shots to stay in the game, and we turned the ball over and didn’t get stops when we needed them.”
Junior guard Yuta Watanabe picked up the slack, leading GW with 17 points and had seven rebounds. Freshman guard Jair Bolden also impressed with 12 points in 27 minutes on the floor – both career-highs – while starting freshman center Collin Smith’s 10 points rounded out a wanting offensive effort.
The Rams’ Havoc defense was out in full-force to begin the game, stifling GW early by forcing nine first-half turnovers and holding the visitors to 29 percent from the field and an uncharacteristic 1-for-11 from three-point range in the opening frame.
VCU ended the night with nine steals, and scored 22 points off of 17 total GW giveaways.
“We didn’t do a good enough job of being poised. We’ve got to be a lot tougher,” Joseph said. “We knew exactly where [their pressure] was coming from, how they were going to do it. You can prepare for it as much as you want but playing against them and being in this environment, for a young team who hasn’t been here before, it’s different.”
Sophomore forward Justin Tillman’s relentless presence down-low jumpstarted VCU’s offense, which took a quick 16-8 lead and never looked back.
Tillman would score 10 in the first half and finish with a game-high 20 points, a large contributor to the Rams’ 48-22 advantage in the paint on the night.
“We knew coming in that what they do [offensively] stems from them getting in the paint,” Joseph said. “We had a gameplan in place to stop that, mixing up defenses and all that kind of stuff, we just didn’t do a good enough job of keeping them outside the paint.”
Cavanaugh was slapped with two fouls before the 13-minute mark of the first half as the two sides continued to go back-and-forth. The Colonials would reduce the deficit to just four points midway through the period but were never able to regain an advantage.
Down 30-20 with 4:35 remaining in the half, Cavanaugh stumbled on a drive to the paint and was assessed his third foul on a questionable charging call. From there, VCU went on a 21-7 run to close out the frame and take a 14-point edge into the break.
A fourth foul was given to Cavanaugh, another charge, early in the second half but with the Rams already leading by 21.
VCU continued to dominate in the second frame, as Tillman recorded his seventh double-double of the season, while six more Rams finished the game in double-figures. Up against GW’s zone for a good part of the contest, VCU closed out the performance going 7-for-18 (39%) from deep to GW’s 2-of-16 (13%), and won the boards 36-35.
The Colonials will try to snap a two-game skid Saturday at La Salle. Tip-off is slated for 4:30 p.m. on NBCSN.