No. 24 VCU rallies for 75-71 win over Xavier

JOE KAY (AP Sports Writer)
The Associated Press

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Virginia Commonwealth was down by 17 points in the second half on a court where Atlantic 10 opponents almost never win. There aren't, though, many teams in any conference that have the Rams' ability to come back fast.

The 24th-ranked Rams intensified their full-court pressure and pulled out a 75-71 victory over Xavier on Saturday, winning another one their way.

Lots of energy. Lots of defense.

''In the second half, our guys said, 'We've got nothing to lose, we're down by a lot of points, let's just go after it,''' coach Shaka Smart said.

Troy Daniels led the way with 19 points, including consecutive 3s that started the big comeback. VCU (22-6, 10-3 A-10) forced Xavier into a season-high 22 turnovers, 12 of them in the second half when the Musketeers were missing their injured point guard.

Daniels set a school record for 3-pointers in a season, hitting four in the second half. Rob Brandenberg added 18 points and scored the Rams' final six, including two free throws with 10.8 seconds left that clinched it.

''At halftime, we had a decision to make,'' Brandenberg said. ''We could feel sorry for ourselves after the first half. We made a decision to come out and just played hard. That willed us to win.''

The Musketeers (15-11, 8-5) played the final 13:35 without point guard Dee Davis, who was hit in the forehead and cut above his right eye. He left for treatment with Xavier up by five points and never returned.

Davis and Brad Redford finished with 15 points apiece for Xavier, which came into the game as the only team still unbeaten at home in A-10 games. VCU became only the second A-10 team to win at the Cintas Center since 2007, along with Saint Louis.

The Musketeers are 52-2 in A-10 home games since 2007.

The Rams were coming off a 76-62 loss at Saint Louis that snapped a five-game winning streak and showed the way to beat them - handle the full-court pressure. VCU leads the nation in steals and forced turnovers, leading to a lot of easy points.

Xavier handled the pressure for a half. The Musketeers shot 73.7 percent from the field (14 of 19) while taking a 39-26 lead. Semaj Christon had a steal and dunk that pushed it to 43-26 early in the second half.

Then, it all fell apart for Xavier.

The Rams were only 2 of 17 from behind the arc in the first half, preventing them from getting into their full-court pressure. Daniels' 3s got them into a comfort zone and started a 10-point run.

''That was a huge turning point,'' Daniels said. ''That's my job. My teammates found me open and I started to hit some shots.''

VCU went 6 of 11 behind the arc in the second half.

Davis got hit above his right eye while trying to get through a trap off an inbounds pass. He left the game for treatment with 13:35 to go and Xavier ahead 48-43. Christon, a shooting guard, was forced to handle the ball the rest of the way.

''In the second half, we just didn't do as good of a job handling the pressure,'' Redford said. ''In the first half, we were more poised. In the second half, we had stretches - especially when Dee went out - where we turned the ball over too much. It definitely hurts when he goes out of the game and Semaj is the primary ballhandler, especially in a game like this.''

Treveon Graham hit a baseline shot and a 3-pointer as VCU got its first lead, 50-48, completing a 24-5 run.

There were three ties and nine lead changes down the stretch. Brandenberg hit a floater in the lane and two free throws that put VCU up 73-68 with 26 seconds left, the Rams' biggest lead.

Xavier's Justin Martin hit a 3-pointer with 19 seconds left, but Brandenberg made two more free throws to finish it off.


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