RICHMOND, Va. -- "Be VCU."
It was the last thing Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart wrote on the locker room board before leading his team out to play No. 20 Butler on Saturday. The Rams heeded his advice with their most dominating 40-minute performance of the season.
"Nobody's coming in here today and winning," Butler coach Brad Stevens said after the Rams, spurred on by a fast start and a deafening home crowd, won 84-52. "We didn't play well enough to even make it close, but that's a whole other story."
Troy Daniels scored 14 of his 20 points in the first half when VCU forced 14 turnovers and turned them into 24 points on their way to a 45-21 lead. For the game, the Bulldogs tied their season high with 23 turnovers, leading to 34 points for VCU.
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"You can always see the pressure on film, but once you've got to deal with it in live play, it's kind of hard to deal with," said Rams senior point guard Darius Theus, who had eight points, nine assists, two blocks and five of VCU's 17 steals.
"It was pretty intense out there tonight."
The meeting was a much anticipated rematch of their unlikely meeting in the national semifinals in Houston in 2011, which Butler won 70-62, and several of the Rams (23-6, 11-3 Atlantic 10) saw it as a chance to make a statement. Both schools also made the jump to the Atlantic 10 in the offseason, making the league a big winner in the conference realignment shuffle.
"That was a team who's been in the top 10 in the country. Now they're top 20," Theus said, "and we're still out to prove ourselves. We're in the A-10 and we're still trying to let everyone know we belong in the top."
It didn't take long.
The Rams, who didn't press with near the intensity they do now two years ago, seemed to overwhelm Butler right from the outset. The Bulldogs turned it over on three of their first five possessions, and 11 more times before getting to halftime.
The Bulldogs (22-7, 9-5) arrived averaging 13 turnovers per game.
The Rams, meanwhile, used all the extra possessions and the combination of Juvonte Reddic down low and Daniels from the outside -- sometimes way outside -- to pour on the offense as the Siegel Center grew deafening.
In a 28-8 run, Reddic scored nine points and Daniels had 11, including consecutive 3-pointers and then three free throws when he was hit while launching another shot from about 26 feet.
Butler seemed to figure the pressure out briefly, pulling within 31-17 on top scorer Rotnei Clarke's first field goal, a 3-pointer with 4:46 left, but 3-pointers by VCU's Rob Brandenburg and Graham highlighted a 14-4 run to make it 45-21.
Butler scored the first seven points after halftime to close within 17, and Smart called a quick timeout.
"He let us know that we're not letting up and we're not letting this lead go," Theus said. "Guys came back out and had that fire in their eyes."
Briante Weber and Treveon Graham each scored five points in a 10-4 run that followed and it was pretty much over, allowing the Rams to clinch one of the top four seeds in the conference tournament later this month.
Roosevelt Jones scored 14 points and Khyle Marshall had 13 for Butler.
"I haven't seen a team that fast yet," Stevens said. "I mean, Weber and Theus and Johnson, you can just go down the list. Brandenburg They can really get into the ball."
The Bulldogs forced only eight turnovers, leading to just two points.
Anticipation was high before the game, with some students even sleeping in tents outside to be sure to get their pick of seats once the doors opened, and once the ball was tipped, VCU was at its best.
Graham, Reddic and Weber all scored 11 points for the Rams.
Claarke, who came in averaging 17, finished with five on 2-for-8 shooting. He also had three turnovers.