HOUSTON (AP) - VCU started missing from long range, and that was the end of its surprising run to the Final Four.
The mid-major school that sliced through five major conference teams on its way to Houston finally got slowed by one of its own.
Jamie Skeen scored 27 points but the Rams went cold from 3-point range for long stretches and struggled to keep Butler off the glass during a 70-62 loss in the national semifinals on Saturday night.
“They killed us on the boards, and we didn’t knock down a lot of shots we usually do,” junior guard Bradford Burgess said.
After VCU put together an early burst of three 3-pointers in 53 seconds, Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens ripped into his guys for leaving Burgess to help guard Skeen. The Rams didn’t make another 3 for almost 18 minutes, with 15:15 left in the game.
That’s a long time to go without your bread and butter in your biggest game.
“I felt like a lot of those shots were in-and-outs,” point guard Joey Rodriguez said. “I almost felt like it wasn’t supposed to happen or something. You know, it’s just a tough feeling.”
Without one of its main weapons, VCU just couldn’t keep up with the experienced Bulldogs. It shot just 39.7 percent (23 for 58) from the field for the game.
“They just didn’t fall for us tonight,” said Brandon Rozzell, who scored just two points, 12 below his average for the tournament. “If they did fall, they went halfway down and came out.”
Burgess went 4 for 7 from behind the arc, but three came in the first seven minutes. He also hit one late while VCU was frantically trying to stop Butler from pulling away.
The rest of the Rams simply lost their stroke, with a big assist from Butler’s defense.
Rozzell went 0 for 3 from deep, took just five shots in 29 minutes and scored his only basket with 12:49 remaining.
“We tried to get him going, tried to run some staggers for him,” Rodriguez said. “He tried to attack the rim but just couldn’t get it going.”
Rodriguez, so electric in VCU’s push to Houston, made only one of his five 3-point tries, and that one came with 8:30 to play. He also missed his only three shots from inside the arc.
The Rams (28-12) were averaging more than 10 3s per game in the NCAA tournament and shooting 44 percent from behind the line. They made 12 from long range three times, blowing out Georgetown, beating Florida State in overtime and stunning Kansas last weekend.
The long-range problems hurt, but it was the Bulldogs’ prowess on the glass that wore down VCU.
“At the end of the day, regardless of what defense you’re in, you’ve got to guard the ball and you’ve got to go rebound the ball,” Rams coach Shaka Smart said. “I don’t think we did a good job of doing either one of those.”
Butler enjoyed a 48-32 rebounding edge, including 16-6 on the offensive end, and scored 19 points off offensive rebounds. The Rams had six, and the banging under the boards also helped the Bulldogs when one VCU big man after another got into foul trouble, including Skeen.
Early on, the Rams looked poised to pull off another shocker.
They fell behind 5-0 (it was 6-0 last weekend against Kansas), then put on a long-distance clinic. Burgess hit the first, Skeen hit another 25 seconds later and then Burgess was good again 28 seconds later. It was nine points in 53 seconds, the start of a 15-2 run.
But then Stevens got in his team’s ears, and the Bulldogs clamped down on VCU’s shooters.