The fifth-seeded Rams set an NCAA tournament record that stood for about an hour Thursday night, throttling 12th-seeded Akron 88-42 for the most lopsided victory by a team seeded third or lower in the NCAA tournament.
By the end of the night, No. 4 seed Syracuse had broken the mark by routing 13th-seeded Montana 81-34.
Troy Daniels had 23 points and Juvonte Reddic scored 21 for the Rams. They broke a margin-of-defeat record by a team seeded third or lower set by No. 3 Arizona in 1996, when it beat 14th-seeded Valparaiso by 39 points, according to STATS.
The previous mark by a fifth-seeded team against a 12th-seeded squad was set by Wyoming in a 35-point win over Howard in 1981 and matched by Tennessee against Long Beach State in 2007, according to STATS.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Daniels said. “We’ll take it, but we’ve got to get ready to play Saturday.”
The Rams (27-8) will play fourth-seeded Michigan for a spot in the round of 16.
“That’s what we live for,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said.
Akron (26-7) was seriously short-handed, and it showed.
In addition to playing without suspended point guard Alex Abreu, the Zips had other problems as well. Starting guard Brian Walsh and reserve center Pat Forsythe were limited by the flu, and reserve guard Deji Ibitayo wasn’t even in uniform because of back spasms.
“On top of everything else, we have one guy hurt his back and two guys with the flu,” Akron forward Nick Harney said. “But we weren’t the only team that had to deal with adversity. There were other teams here that overcame things and won. You have to play the hand you are dealt. We didn’t get the job done, and I hate that for the seniors.
“We’ll have more chances to get wins in the tournament, but those guys won’t.”
The way VCU played, though, Akron might’ve had a lot of trouble even if it was at full strength.
VCU looks as though it might have what it takes to make another run in the NCAA tournament. But unlike its 2011 trip to the Final Four, hardly anyone would be shocked if the Rams win three more games to reach the national semifinals.
Smart wants his players to wreak havoc with a full-court press and a fast-paced offense, and they did just that against the Zips.
Without Abreu, who was arrested on drug trafficking charges two weeks ago, Akron struggled to simply get the ball to the other end of the court.
“We definitely thought we could use that to our advantage and go after them and exploit that,” said VCU guard Rob Brandenberg, who scored 14 points and had one of his team’s 11 steals.
VCU forced the Zips into 10-second violations twice in less than a minute early in the game after they led 6-4, and the Rams scored 10 straight points to take control for good.
“We used so much energy trying to get the ball up the court, we couldn’t guard them,” Akron coach Keith Dambrot said.
The Atlantic 10 team sealed the victory by closing the first half with a 16-3 run.
The only question after halftime was how large the winning margin would be, and Smart wasn’t going to be satisfied with his reserves cruising to an easy victory.
With his team up by 40 midway through the second half, Smart didn’t show any mercy on his former boss and close friend, Dambrot. Smart left his starters in the game until there were about seven minutes left.
“We’re not going to fall back and play zone,” Smart said. “That’s not what we do.”
The Rams kept pressing, making behind-the-back passes, hitting layups and draining 3-pointers along with an alley-oop dunk in a relentlessly dominating performance.
“If you’re up, you can’t let up,” VCU guard Darius Theus said. “We made up our minds at halftime that we weren’t stopping.”
Smart didn’t stop coaching even when his team was leading 65-34 with 15:04 left.
Before addressing his players in a huddle, he started the timeout with a face-to-face conversation with Daniels — their noses inches apart — perhaps pointing him toward improving for his next test against the previously top-ranked Wolverines.
“He was telling me to box out,” Daniels recalled. “I said, ‘OK, Coach, I got you.’”
Demetrius Treadwell scored 15 and Zeke Marshall had 11 points for the Mid-American Conference champion Zips, who shot below 35 percent.
While forcing turnovers, VCU took good care of the basketball when it was on offense.
VCU forced 22 turnovers and gave up the ball just seven times — at least once at the end of the game on purpose — to narrowly miss another feat. Since 1990, the largest turnover differential when one team had seven or fewer turnovers was 16 set by Syracuse in 1996 against Mississippi State and matched by Utah State against Ohio State in 2001, according to STATS.