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VCU takes defending national champion Baylor to brink, but falls 69-61 in Battle 4 Atlantis
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VCU takes defending national champion Baylor to brink, but falls 69-61 in Battle 4 Atlantis

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VCU fell 69-61 to defending national champion Baylor, currently ranked sixth in the nation, in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals Thursday.

Over and over again, the scene repeated itself Thursday night.

VCU and Baylor players scrapping for the ball, players sprawled out on the floor trying to secure a possession.

It was a rough-and-tumble game between the Rams and the sixth-ranked Bears in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals — VCU didn’t back down from the defending national champion.

The Rams took Baylor to the brink — powered by, no surprise, their defense.

But, in the end, the Bears’ array of weapons proved too much. And the Rams were left to lament the self-inflicted mistakes that took away opportunities.

VCU fell 69-61 at Imperial Arena in Paradise Island, Bahamas.

“Really proud of our guys’ effort today,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades said. “I thought, at times, we put Baylor on their heels. And we got our style of play going.”

“I just thought at times we sort of shot ourselves in the foot,” Rhoades continued. “And, before you can beat a team like Baylor, you can’t beat yourself. And I think, at times, we did that. Some careless turnovers, some blown assignments coming out of timeouts or dead balls.”

With the loss, VCU (3-3) will finish its Battle 4 Atlantis slate in the third-place game at 1:30 p.m. Friday, against 22nd-ranked Connecticut. The Huskies (5-1) fell 64-60 to Michigan State in their semifinal Thursday.

Vince Williams led all players with 17 points for VCU. Levi Stockard III added 13 points and six rebounds.

After Baylor (6-0) made it an 11-point game early in the second half, the Rams on seven different occasions pulled within at least two possessions of at least tying the game in the second half.

With 15.3 seconds to go, KeShawn Curry nabbed a Baylor inbounds pass and laid the ball back in. That cut the Bears’ lead to 65-61.

But Baylor’s James Akinjo was fouled after that and hit both shots. Jayden Nunn was subsequently fouled, too, but missed both free throws. And the Bears held on.

“They were really scrappy, they’re some dogs,” Baylor’s Matthew Mayer said of VCU. “So, I mean, I got to give it up to them. They play really hard, and I respect them for that.”

VCU, behind Stockard’s play inside, had made it a 2-point game, 29-27, at the half. Stockard went on a personal 7-0 run late in the first half, including a pair of layups and a jumper. That was coming off Stockard’s team-best 15 points against Syracuse on Wednesday.

“Coach said I needed to step up, and I stepped up for my team,” Stockard said of his first two games in the Bahamas.

But, out of the break, Baylor blitzed VCU with a 9-0 run to provide what proved to be valuable breathing room.

Kendall Brown had 6 of those points, including an alley-oop dunk and a layup.

“That was a killer,” Rhoades said of the Baylor run. “We talked about it in the locker room. They’re known for that.”

And each time VCU threatened in the second half, the Bears found the answer they needed to keep the Rams at a distance, even with Williams scoring 12 of his points after halftime.

Part of that was Baylor’s superiority on the glass — the Bears outrebounded VCU 42-33, including 17-12 on the offensive boards. That led to the Bears’ 15-3 advantage on second-chance points, which Baylor coach Scott Drew considered to be the difference.

“That was huge,” Rhoades said.

VCU also surrendered 19 turnovers, off which Baylor scored 20 points.

Mayer finished with 15 points for Baylor. Brown had 14 points, all in the second half.

Rhoades expects another aggressive and physical game against UConn.

He’s seen growth in his team, in “beating Syracuse here and playing the defending champs toe to toe,” he said.

For a VCU team whose confidence seems to be increasing rapidly, Friday is a chance to finish strong.

“I’m excited to see how our guys are going to respond,” Rhoades said.

FG FT Reb

BAYLOR M M-A M-A O-T A PF PT

Thamba 17 1-2 2-3 3-4 0 4 4

Akinjo 29 1-6 4-4 0-1 2 3 6

Flagler 29 3-9 2-2 1-3 2 0 9

Brown 29 6-9 2-2 2-5 0 3 14

Mayer 29 5-13 2-4 2-6 2 3 15

Cryer 26 1-6 4-6 0-0 2 1 6

T. Tchatchoua 23 6-8 0-0 1-8 1 2 13

Sochan 14 0-4 2-3 4-6 2 3 2

Bonner 4 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 0

Totals 200 23-57 18-24 13-33 12 19 69

Percentages: FG .404, FT .750. 3-Point Goals: 5-15, .333 (Mayer 3-5, Tchamwa Tchatchoua 1-1, Flagler 1-4, Akinjo 0-1, Sochan 0-1, Cryer 0-3). Team Rebounds: 9. Team Turnovers: 1. Blocked Shots: 2 (Mayer, Thamba). Turnovers: 17 (Akinjo 7, Cryer 4, Brown, Flagler, Mayer, Sochan, Tchamwa Tchatchoua, Thamba). Steals: 8 (Mayer 2, Akinjo, Brown, Cryer, Flagler, Tchamwa Tchatchoua, Thamba).

FG FT Reb

VCU M M-A M-A O-T A PF PT

Stockard 30 5-7 3-4 4-6 2 3 13

Ward 28 3-8 0-1 3-6 3 3 6

Williams 37 7-15 0-0 1-3 5 4 17

Curry 26 2-9 1-2 1-2 0 4 5

Nunn 31 1-3 3-6 0-3 2 2 6

Kern 14 1-3 0-0 1-3 0 0 2

Brown-Jones 11 2-3 0-0 0-1 0 2 5

Tsohonis 11 2-5 0-0 0-2 2 0 5

DeLoach 10 1-3 0-0 1-4 0 1 2

Banks 2 0-1 0-0 0-1 0 0 0

Totals 200 24-57 7-13 11-31 14 19 61

Percentages: FG .421, FT .538. 3-Point Goals: 6-20, .300 (Williams 3-8, Brown-Jones 1-2, Nunn 1-2, Tsohonis 1-3, Ward 0-1, Curry 0-4). Team Rebounds: 2. Team Turnovers: 1. Blocked Shots: 5 (Brown-Jones, DeLoach, Tsohonis, Ward, Williams). Turnovers: 18 (Williams 5, Ward 4, Brown-Jones 2, Curry 2, Kern 2, DeLoach, Nunn, Stockard). Steals: 11 (Stockard 3, Nunn 2, Williams 2, Curry, DeLoach, Kern, Ward).

Baylor 29 40 — 69

VCU 27 34 — 61

A—929 (500).

Wednesday’s game

VCU 67, Syracuse 55: The Rams cracked the Orange’s 2-3 zone while stifling Syracuse defensively to win their Battle 4 Atlantis opener.

One of VCU’s focuses against Syracuse’s zone was to get the ball in the middle, and they did that effectively as the game wore on. Stockard III helped lead those efforts, with his 15 points, plus four rebounds and four assists.

VCU took control with an 11-3 run near the midpoint of the second half that included a pair of 3s from Marcus Tsohonis. Tsohonis, an offseason transfer from Washington, had his best game at VCU so far with 12 points, going 3 of 4 total from deep.

The Rams held Syracuse to 29% shooting.

FG FT Reb

VCU M M-A M-A O-T A PF PT

Stockard 25 5-10 5-5 1-4 4 3 15

Ward 25 3-8 0-0 0-4 0 1 6

V.Williams 32 2-10 0-0 0-4 4 2 4

Curry 32 3-4 3-4 2-5 2 4 11

Nunn 21 3-4 0-0 0-2 1 1 8

Tsohonis 22 4-6 1-2 0-1 3 0 12

DeLoach 13 1-2 0-1 3-5 2 2 2

Kern 13 0-5 0-0 0-3 1 0 0

Brown-Jones 11 2-5 2-3 0-4 1 0 6

Banks 3 0-1 0-0 0-0 1 0 0

Nichols 3 1-2 1-2 1-2 0 0 3

Totals 200 24-57 12-17 7-34 19 13 67

Percentages: FG .421, FT .706. 3-Point Goals: 7-18, .389 (Tsohonis 3-4, Curry 2-3, Nunn 2-3, Banks 0-1, V.Williams 0-7). Team Rebounds: 4. Team Turnovers: 1. Blocked Shots: 8 (Ward 3, DeLoach 2, V.Williams 2, Stockard). Turnovers: 13 (Nunn 4, V.Williams 4, DeLoach 2, Kern, Stockard, Ward). Steals: 10 (V.Williams 2, Ward 2, Brown-Jones, Curry, Kern, Nunn, Stockard, Tsohonis).

FG FT Reb

SYRACUSE M M-A M-A O-T A PF PT

J.Boeheim 36 5-13 6-7 5-12 1 1 17

Swider 36 2-14 2-2 2-7 2 3 6

Edwards 16 3-6 0-0 1-4 1 5 6

B.Boeheim 39 6-17 6-7 3-6 2 2 20

Girard 37 2-9 0-0 0-3 0 0 6

B.Williams 17 0-1 0-0 1-3 0 1 0

Anselem 15 0-1 0-0 0-1 0 3 0

Torrence 4 0-1 0-0 0-0 2 0 0

Totals 200 18-62 14-16 12-36 8 15 55

Percentages: FG .290, FT .875. 3-Point Goals: 5-23, .217 (Girard 2-5, B.Boeheim 2-10, J.Boeheim 1-1, Swider 0-7). Team Rebounds: 7. Team Turnovers: 1. Blocked Shots: 5 (Edwards 3, B.Williams, J.Boeheim). Turnovers: 15 (Girard 6, Swider 3, B.Williams 2, J.Boeheim 2, Anselem, B.Boeheim). Steals: 7 (B.Boeheim 3, J.Boeheim 3, Anselem).

VCU 23 44 — 67

Syracuse 27 28 — 55

A—1,281 (500).

wepps@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6442

Twitter: @wayneeppsjr

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