In the first half, VCU's Havoc defense forced its share of turnovers, just as often, it led to an open 3-pointer for a Winthrop guard. The second half wasn't quite the same for upset-minded Winthrop as the 3s stopped falling and the Rams pulled away for a 92-71 victory Saturday night.
VCU led 58-52 when redshirt freshman Mo Alie-Cox hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Rob Brandenberg came up with a steal at one end and a layup at the other, and JeQuan Lewis followed with another layup to push the lead to 13. The Eagles would come no closer than an eight-point deficit the rest of the way.
Alie-Cox's shot was the first 3-pointer of his career, and it came on his first attempt from beyond the arc.
"I didn't mind it," VCU coach Shaka Smart said. "I don't think the crowd minded it. It was one of those things where the crowd was like `No!" and then it went in and the crowd went nuts."
The two baskets that followed it were a much better example of the Rams' style. On the first, Brandenberg got his hand into the passing lane and forced a turnover before getting a return pass at the other end. On the second, Lewis converted a twisting layup after a defensive stop.
"Back in the day when I played at Xavier, we were a pressing team," Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey said. "Coach [Herb] Sendek, who's at Arizona State and was at Miami of Ohio, made a comment that Xavier's pressure was cumulative. That's what VCU does.
"You can't simulate it in practice. We took their first punch, we took their second punch, we took their third punch, but they just keep coming at you, and it wore us down."
The Rams' depth is a big reason why they're able to have that effect on teams, and it showed against Winthrop. Point guard Briante Weber had a game-high 16 points and four assists and was one of six VCU players in double figures. Treveon Graham finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds and Lewis, Brandenberg and Juvonte Reddic had 11 each. Alie-Cox finished with 10 points and six rebounds.
"With us having so much depth, fatigue really doesn't affect us as much," Graham said. "We work on Havoc in practice, so we're already conditioned."
Andre Smith led Winthrop (2-1) with 15 points, 14 in the first half, and seven rebounds. James Bourne and Keon Johnson added 11 points each.
Smith made his first four 3-pointers as the Eagles went six of 10 from beyond the arc in the first half. He missed all five of his 3s after the break, and Winthrop went just 2 for 9.
"Andre's a really, really good shooter with his feet set and an open look," Kelsey said. "But the style of the game and the way it went, it gets to your legs."
The Rams had knocked off No. 25 Virginia on the road on Tuesday on the strength of a long, contested 3-pointer from Graham. Their next game comes against Florida State in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, and the relatively slow start could have been chalked up to a relative lack of attention paid to an overmatched foe.
"A couple of coaches I've worked for would have called this a trap game," Smart said. "I don't really use that phrase, but the UVA game was an emotional win. We put a lot into that. You don't win in a vacuum and you don't lose in a vacuum. There are responses you get from people on campus. I'm sure our guys got a lot of pats on the back after the UVA win."
They'll get more love from the VCU faithful after starting off 3-0 for the first time since the 2010-2011 season, which ended with a trip to the Final Four.
"We've got to reset a little bit after this week," Smart said. "It was a long week. We got two wins, which is what we wanted, but we've got to understand that the week's over and we have a challenge ahead of us."