RICHMOND, Va. — This time, Wichita State made the big plays in the final seconds. Now “Havoc” is just another word, one that doesn’t seem so powerful or intimidating as it once did.
WSU, with four players starting their first road game as Shockers, handled VCU’s pressure defense and sellout crowd with a 53-51 win at the Siegel Center on Tuesday. Guard Malcolm Armstead sank a 17-foot jumper with 3.8 seconds remaining for the win, ending a game in which he calmly directed WSU’s offense against the defense trademarked as “Havoc.” WSU survived a miserable shooting night with a series of clutch plays into the teeth of VCU’s Rowdy Rams student section.
“He wanted it, and I was smart enough to listen,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “It worked pretty well.”
Armstead’s shot almost quieted the crowd. Then the Shockers had to survive a scare when Carl Hall fouled Juvonte Reddic in the final second. Reddic’s first free throw spun out. He missed the second one off the backboard, a violation that gave the ball to WSU with 0.5 seconds to play. A quick inbound pass erased some of the frustration from a 68-67 loss to VCU in 2011 in Koch Arena and March’s 62-59 loss in the NCAA Tournament.
The Shockers didn’t play like a team that lost five seniors from 2011-12. Freshman, sophomores, newcomers — they all showed remarkable calm and composure in pressure-packed environment. Junior transfer Cleanthony Early came off the bench to score 13 points. Armstead, playing his first road game as a Shocker after sitting out last season, scored 11 points and had six assists and four steals.
“I felt like everybody seemed experienced,” WSU redshirt freshman Ron Baker said. “I don’t have any late-game experience, but it really felt like everybody was in that mode.”
Before Tuesday’s game, WSU coaches told their players to embrace the way VCU played and take advantage. The Shockers did some of that, breaking the press and making open shots. They also hit the Rams with their own tough defense to hand VCU its first November home loss since 2002.
“They did a good job dealing with our press and our crowd and the way we play,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said. “They certainly were not scared.”
Certainly not Armstead.
With the game tied 51-all, WSU got the ball with 26.6 seconds to play. The Shockers flattened out four players along the baseline to give Armstead room. He waved off a ball screen and went at VCU’s Briante Weber. When Weber gave ground, Armstead swished a long jumper for a 53-51 lead.
“He backed up a lot, so I gave him a hesitation, which he bit for, and I rose up,” Armstead said. “I’m tired, I’m sick, but I feel good though.”
Armstead’s winner capped a series of clutch plays that gave WSU a bit of space in a physical, grinding defensive effort.
Demetric Williams found Carl Hall with a pretty bounce pass for a layup and 45-44 lead with 2:03 remaining. Early scored after a VCU turnover for a 47-44 lead. Then the big one — the Shockers fought off traps and reversed the ball to Early for a dunk and a 49-45 lead.
WSU shot 35.1 percent from the field, missing 16 of 19 threes. They limited turnovers to 13, four in the second half, and never let the Rams go on big runs. VCU shot 34.7 percent from the field and missed 12 of 24 foul shots.
“This is third time we’ve played them in three years, and every year they’ve done a nice job against the press,” Smart said. “Tonight served as a reminder that we have a long way to go. If we’re not on edge and playing the way that we need to play, in terms of our approach, teams can beat us. Some of our guys may have lost sight of that.”
VCU’s press turned the game briefly in the second half. WSU committed turnovers on its first three possessions and the Rams scored after each to build a 33-28 lead. WSU finally broke through with Armstead’s runner of the glass.
WSU refused to fold, even as the crowd roared and the Rams tried to pick up the pressure. Baker broke VCU’s momentum with a three-pointer, after freeing himself with a pump fake that sent a defender soaring by. His basket tied it 33-all.
“Marshall warned us that we were going to handle adversity before the game, and he brought it up again on the bench,” Baker said. “He challenged us as a unit to attack the adversity and get through it.”