With less than nine minutes remaining in their NCAA Tournament first-round matchup, No. 7 seed Oregon State held the ball with a one point lead over No. 10 VCU. Wayne Tinkle’s squad surged ahead of the Rams during the second half behind a 14-2 run, punctuated by a high-flying fast break dunk from senior Gary Payton II. Momentum had certainly swung in favor of the Beavers, who appeared poised to seize control of the game. It was precisely the moment VCU needed a signature defensive play from junior Mo Alie-Cox.
Per hoop-math.com, VCU recovers 56.7% of blocks by the 6-foot-7 forward, and those live changes of possession help fuel efficient transition offense. The block at the rim on Oregon State’s 6-foot-10 Drew Eubanks led to a Rams run-out, capped off by a corner 3-pointer from senior sharpshooter Melvin Johnson.
The Rams would never trail again.
Mo Alie-Cox later told Tim Pearrell of the Richmond Times Dispatch, “It kind of took the air out of them.” VCU pulled away down the stretch for the 75-67 victory – marking the first NCAA Tournament win for Will Wade (at 33, the youngest head coach in the tournament).
Though Oregon State had victory within reach, it was a fleeting moment that belied the control VCU owned for the balance of the game. Despite logging minutes from four players 6-foot-10 or taller, the Beavers were outrebounded 40-28 by the undersized Rams. Offensively VCU struggled from range, but continually converted looks near the rim, scoring 34.5% of their 75 points in the painted area.
VCU played inside-out yesterday, the desired hierarchy of offensive attack for Will Wade this season. The Rams made 70.4% (19-27) of field goal attempts around the basket.
In addition to being a menace on the defensive end, Mo Alie-Cox (3 blocks, 8 rebounds) was a brutal matchup for the Beavers offensively. VCU frequently overloaded the weak side of the floor, creating space that allowed VCU to run simple pick-and-roll plays for the Rams big man. Oregon State was often too late and ineffective in their defensive rotations, and Alie-Cox finished with 20 points on 7-8 shooting (87.5%) – every attempt coming at the basket.
The Rams will face the No.2 seed in the West Region, Oklahoma, in Oklahoma City on Sunday at 5:15 p.m. Eastern on CBS.