AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Mitch McGary had no problem handling “the Havoc.”
Neither did McGary’s cohorts.
In one of the more anticipated matchups in the early going of the NCAA tournament, the Michigan men’s basketball team wasn’t intimidated by a much-publicized full-court press, or by the fact that some had labeled Saturday’s game against Virginia Commonwealth as “must-see TV.”
Instead, the fourth-seeded Wolverines stuck to a particular game plan and dominated deep in opposing real estate in a 78-53 rout of fifth-seeded Virginia Commonwealth in a third-round South regional game Saturday at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Boosted by McGary’s 21 points and his inside presence — as well as a pick at the top of the 3-point arc that sent VCU guard Briante Weber to the floor late in the first half — Michigan earned its first berth in the Sweet Sixteen since 1994. Michigan will face either top-seeded Kansas or No. 8 North Carolina next weekend at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“That’s Mitch McGary,” Michigan point guard Trey Burke said. “He brings intensity to this game, and he’s kind of like our X-factor. “He’s the guy that gives us the spark and makes our engine run in the front court.”
The Wolverines (28-7) first broke the Rams’ full-court press, noted widely for its capacity to create turnovers and quickly fatigue its opponents.
“We had stretches where we bothered them,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said. “We were able to turn [Michigan point guard Trey] Burke over seven times, which, is a great number for someone that's that good of a player, but overall, we only forced twelve turnovers, which is much lower than what we normally do.
“When they did break the press, they really made us pay, and I'm sure that was their game plan. We didn't fix it well enough out of the press. So that was one of the big differences in the game.”
Michigan not only broke the press with ease but also outrebounded VCU 41-24 and had only 12 turnovers — one more than VCU (27-9) — which Burke (18 points) noted was part of the Wolverines’ game plan.
Then, the Wolverines took advantage of a cold-shooting stretch by the Rams late in the first half to stretch what was once a one-point lead to 38-23 at halftime, powered by a 20-6 run to close out the half.
When it seemed as if there was any doubt Michigan would maintain its double-digit lead, McGary scored nine points in a stretch of less than two minutes early in the second half.
“I was just getting open looks,” said McGary, who had his third double-double of the season. “Trey and Tim and Glenn, they were all feeding me, and everybody was just feeding off the energy, so it built.”
Michigan took an 11-5 lead as VCU guard Darius Theus was called for two fouls less than three minutes into the game. But after the Rams cut the lead to 18-17 on Treveon Graham’s jumper after a media timeout, Michigan kicked off a 7-0 run with help from VCU’s poor shooting and spotty rebounding.
VCU went 0 for 7 from the floor in that stretch, which helped the Wolverines capitalize. Michigan ended the first half on a 20-6 run and built off its transition game; the Wolverines outrebounded VCU 25-14 in the first half, including 19 defensive rebounds.
“We really kept them from getting second opportunities through two ways — offensive rebounds and turning the ball over,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “With 12 turnovers against this team, I think that was as big a factor as our rebounding difference.”
VCU’s only glimmer of hope came early in the second half, when Juvonte Reddic (16 points) clipped Michigan’s lead to 11 points, scoring off a turnover by Burke 90 seconds into the half — the closest the Rams could get for the remainder of the game.
“You’ve got to give credit to Michigan for making sure that they were on the offensive and very aggressive the whole day,” Smart said. “When we're not the most aggressive team on the floor, then that typically doesn't bode well for us, and we certainly were not.”