VCU Defeats Northern Iowa 77-68

VCU's Rob Brandenberg, left, dives with Northern Iowa's Chip Rank for a loose ball during an NCAA college basketball game between VCU and Northern Iowa, Friday, Feb. 17, 2012, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/ Richmond Times-Dispatch, Dean Hoffmeyer)

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By James Steward

RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) — Darius Theus knew that Northern Iowa was getting tired, and when the mistakes inevitably came, he was ready.

Theus scored his only three field goals of the game in the final 4:45 of a tight game Friday night, accounting for all Virginia Commonwealth's points in a 7-2 run, and the Rams held on to beat Northern Iowa 77-68.

"I feel like the pressure got to them a little bit and they got fatigued toward the end of the game," Theus said, describing the impact of the Rams' relentless full-court pressure defense. It forced 19 turnovers by the Panthers, leading to 19 points for VCU.

None were more critical than the ones Theus provided.

He scored his first basket, taking an over-the-back flip from Juvonte Reddic, to make it 66-62, and then stepped into a passing lane and stole the ball at midcourt, going in for his second basket 25 seconds later. His third came as he was fouled, and his free throw made it 71-64.

"His primary job is to make sure we get a good shot," VCU coach Shaka Smart said of his point guard, who finished with nine points, six assists and four of the Rams' 12 steals. "As the game winds down, that means he needs to shoot."

Bradford Burgess scored 17, Reddic had 15 and Rob Brandenberg 13 for the Rams (23-6), whose 11-game winning streak was snapped by an off-balance, buzzer-beating 3-pointer against George Mason on Tuesday night. VCU made sure it didn't lose another nail-biter, closing with a 13-6 run to improve to 5-3 in BracketBusters contests.

Smart was impressed with the businesslike approach his young team took after the loss cost them a share of first place.

"The person that probably had the hardest time moving on was me," he said.

The Panthers (17-12), trying to bounce back from a 63-62 loss to Evansville, got 18 points from Deon Mitchell and 10 from Anthony James. They lost despite shooting 55.6 percent overall (25 of 45) and hitting 9 of 17 3-point shots. VCU was almost as good from deep, hitting 8 of 21.

"You shoot that good of a percentage, you've given yourself a really good chance to win a game, but you've got to do some other things as well," Panthers coach Ben Jacobson said. "They shot it well. They ran good offense in the first half."

The key, he said, were two or three especially costly turnovers, and some open shots that didn't fall down the stretch.

A 3-pointer by Brandenberg and two free throws by Burgess gave VCU a 64-58 lead, its biggest to that point in the second half, but Johnny Moran's 15-footer and two free throws by Mitchell made it 64-62 with 5:07 left. That's when Theus asserted himself and took the game over.

The Panthers got no closer than five again.

The game was a battle of the teams that have knocked Kansas out of the last two NCAA tournaments. The Panthers beat the Jayhawks two years ago in the second round, and VCU did it last year in the quarterfinals, clinching the team's stunning run to the Final Four.

VCU, playing before its 17th consecutive sellout crowd, tried to take command with an early 12-0 run fueled by 3-pointers by Troy Daniels and Brandenberg, but after falling behind 28-20, a 3-pointer by Marc Sonnen launched a 16-7 run for the visitors to give them a 35-34 edge.

Two straight baskets by the Rams made it 40-36, but the Panthers finished the half on an 8-2 run to lead 44-42.

In the half, the Panthers were 7-for-10 from 3-point range, and the Rams were 6-for-11.

N. IOWA (17-12)

Mitchell 7-11 4-4 18, Tuttle 2-2 5-8 9, Moran 3-6 0-0 8, Koch 2-6 0-0 4, Sonnen 3-5 0-0 8, Rank 3-5 0-0 8, Morrison 1-2 0-0 3, Pehl 0-0 0-0 0, James 4-8 0-1 10. Totals 25-45 9-13 68.

VCU (23-6)

Theus 3-9 3-3 9, Reddic 5-11 5-6 15, Burgess 6-9 2-2 17, Daniels 3-8 4-4 12, Haley 2-3 1-2 5, Weber 1-3 0-0 2, Brandenberg 5-7 0-1 13, Graham 1-4 2-2 4. Totals 26-54 17-20 77.

Halftime_N. Iowa 44-42. 3-Point Goals_N. Iowa 9-17 (James 2-3, Rank 2-3, Moran 2-4, Sonnen 2-4, Morrison 1-1, Koch 0-2), VCU 8-21 (Burgess 3-5, Brandenberg 3-5, Daniels 2-7, Theus 0-2, Graham 0-2). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_N. Iowa 24 (Tuttle 8), VCU 28 (Reddic 11). Assists_N. Iowa 15 (Mitchell 6), VCU 17 (Theus 6). Total Fouls_N. Iowa 16, VCU 15. A_7,617.
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