With just more than three minutes to play, St. Joseph’s star Ryan Daly could only put his head down and hustle back on defense. After a Virginia Commonwealth dunk inflated its lead to 18, Daly tried to quickly take advantage and convert a dunk in transition but could not.
Coming off a 30-point performance in the Hawks’ Saturday victory at Penn, Daly was determined to once more lead the team in search of its first conference victory.
But in putting up team-high 12 attempts from the field, the redshirt junior guard connected on just two as St. Joseph’s fell to VCU, 73-60, at Hagan Arena on Tuesday night.
The Hawks (4-15, 0-6 Atlantic 10) looked outmatched from the start against a VCU team (14-5, 4-2) that was the preseason pick for first place in the conference. St. Joseph’s struggled against VCU’s suffocating zone defense and full-court press all night to the tune of 18 turnovers.
The Hawks were killed in the paint, outscored by 24 points under the basket. They instead lived and died by the three, taking an early lead with a hot shooting start but falling behind in the second half to finish 9-for-27 from beyond the arc. Midway through the second half, St. Joe’s had missed 11 of its last 12 threes.
The Hawks held the early lead at 11-7 and connected on four their first five three-point attempts. But at the same time, the Hawks struggled with VCU’s physical, full-court press and made costly, ill-advised passes at halfcourt. The Hawks turned the ball over five times in the first eight minutes of the game and 11 times in the first half, gifting 14 points for the Rams.
In the second half, St. Joe’s cut a 13-point halftime lead to 41-32 and later were within 10 points on a few occasions but couldn’t get any closer.
Guard Keshawn Curry led a balanced VCU offensive attack with 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting. Cameron Brown paced the Hawks with 12 points while Myles Douglas, Rahmir Moore, and Lorenzo Edwards each added 10. Daly finished with eight points.
VCU’s press defense gave the Hawks trouble all night, particularly Daly, who had trouble getting the ball past halfcourt on several occasions. St. Joe’s finished the night with 18 turnovers and allowed the Rams to score 19 off of them.
Daly finished the night 2-of-12 overall and 1-from-7 in close-range shots, an area in which he usually excels. Coach Billy Lange credited the Rams’ physicality as Daly often tried to draw fouls and didn’t get them in what was a gritty game for both sides.
The Hawks were outscored 36-12 in the paint and shot just 16-for-51 from the field. VCU, a team that usually plays at least 10 men deep, saw 13 players take the floor as the Rams’ bench outscored the Hawks’ reserves, 39-17.
“We tried to simulate it yesterday in practice," Lange said of VCU’s press defense. "Those early turnovers in the first 10 or 12 minutes of the game were just killers for us. They just didn’t allow us to stay in the game. And then we missed the open looks, too, so that hurts.”
“For the majority of the game, that’s a five-possession game," Lange said. "And a lot of it came down to things that are fundamental that we just have to keep getting better at. ... When you think of it as being a five-possession game for most of the game, you can probably call back five possessions where we could be better in those areas.”
Tuesday was a homecoming of sorts for VCU freshman guard Bones Hyland, the Wilmington native who was named the Delaware Sportswriters and Broadcasters Association Boys Basketball Player of the Year last season. Hyland was heavily recruited by St. Joseph’s before he committed to the Rams in June.
Hyland scored three points off the bench against the Hawks after recording a career-high 21 points last Saturday against St. Bonaventure, starting in place of injured point guard Marcus Evans. Evans was back against St. Joe’s but left midway through the second half after a collision caused him to hit his head on the court.