AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Akron knew it would be short-handed in the NCAA tournament, playing without suspended point guard Alex Abreu.
The Zips had no idea, though, just how hindered they would be against VCU because of bouts with the flu and one player’s bad back.
The Rams set an NCAA tournament record that stood for about an hour, throttling Akron 88-42 on Thursday night for the largest victory by a team seeded third or lower in the NCAA tournament.
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By the end of the night, No. 4 seed Syracuse had broken the mark by routing Montana 81-34.
In addition to playing without Abreu, the Zips had other problems.
Starting guard Brian Walsh and reserve center Pat Forsythe were limited by the flu, and reserve guard Deji Ibitayo wasn’t even in uniform because of back spasms.
“Most teams around the country didn’t hit the haymakers we hit,” Zips coach Keith Dambrot said.
Troy Daniels had 23 points and Juvonte Reddic scored 21 for VCU in a record-breaking rout.
The Rams momentarily set a margin-of-defeat record by a team seeded third or lower set by No. 3 Arizona in 1996, when it beat 14th-seeded Valparaiso by 39 points, according to STATS.
The previous mark by a fifth-seeded team against a 12th-seeded squad was set by Wyoming in a 35-point win over Howard in 1981 and matched by Tennessee against Long Beach State in 2007, according to STATS.
Dambrot insisted he didn’t take any offense that Smart, a former assistant and one of his best friends, didn’t show mercy until late in the game.
“Our misfortune was his gain,” Dambrot said. “This is a big boys’ game. You’ve got to put your pants on, take your butt whipping sometimes.”
The Rams (27-8) will play fourth-seeded Michigan on Saturday for a spot in the round of 16.
Akron (26-7) might’ve had a lot of trouble even if it was at full strength.
VCU looks as though it might have what it takes to make another run in the NCAA tournament. But unlike its 2011 trip to the Final Four, hardly anyone would be shocked if the Rams win three more games to reach the national semifinals.
Smart wants his players to wreak havoc with a full-court press and a fast-paced offense, and they did just that against the Zips.
Without Abreu, who was arrested on drug trafficking charges two weeks ago, Akron struggled to simply get the ball to the other end of the court.
“We definitely thought we could use that to our advantage and go after them and exploit that,” said VCU guard Rob Brandenberg, who scored 14 points and had one of his team’s 11 steals.
VCU forced the Zips into 10-second violations twice in less than a minute early in the game after they led 6-4, and the Rams scored 10 straight points to take control for good.
“We used so much energy trying to get the ball up the court, we couldn’t guard them,” Dambrot said.
The Atlantic 10 team sealed the victory by closing the first half with a 16-3 run.
The only question in the second half was how large the winning margin would be, and Smart wasn’t going to be satisfied with his reserves cruising to an easy victory.
With his team up by 40 midway through the second half, Smart didn’t back his team off until there were about seven minutes left.
The Rams kept pressing, making behind-the-back passes, hitting layups and draining 3-pointers along with an alley-oop dunk in a relentlessly dominating performance.
“We’re not going to fall back and play zone,” Smart said. “That’s not what we do.”
Demetrius Treadwell scored 15 and Zeke Marshall had 11 points for the Mid-American Conference champion Zips, who shot below 35 percent.
While forcing turnovers, VCU took good care of the basketball when it was on offense.
VCU forced 22 turnovers and gave up the ball just seven times — at least once at the end of the game on purpose — to narrowly miss another feat. Since 1990, the largest turnover differential when one team had seven or fewer turnovers was 16 set by Syracuse in 1996 against Mississippi State and matched by Utah State against Ohio State in 2001, according to STATS.