With 7:02 left in the 2008 game between Nevada and VCU, the Rams led by nine points. They would end up losing the game 71-70 after holding that late lead.
In Friday night’s game with Nevada, VCU also led by nine with 7:02 remaining. This time however, the Rams wouldn’t let this one slip away at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.
“We thought about it. We also thought about the Western Michigan game when we were up and let them come back,” VCU center Larry Sanders (Fort Pierce, Fla./Port St. Lucie) said. “One thing we have been working on is keeping that momentum. I think we took a step forward tonight.”
The Rams were able to control their third consecutive game from the opening tip as they never trailed the Wolfpack in an 85-76 win.
VCU controlled the game because they were able to win the game at the defensive end of the floor. Nevada was averaging 87.3 points per game and a 50 percent team field goal percentage coming in.
The Rams held the Wolfpack to their second lowest point total of the season. Nevada only shot 35 percent from the floor.
“I was really pleased with our guys’ effort, particularily our defensive effort in the first half,” said VCU coach Shaka Smart.
VCU seized the momentum early, shaking off any notion that they might be winded from a busy and potentially distracting week.
The Rams jumped out to a 16-5 lead in the first six minutes of the game, using three pointers from Ed Nixon (St. Petersburg, Fla./Lakewood) and Brandon Rozzell (Richmond/Highland Springs) to kick start the offense.
VCU maintained a lead of 9-11 for the remainder of the half, before Nevada was able to close the lead to three on an 11-3 run.
The Rams, not to be outdone, finished the half with a 6-1 spurt, pushing the halftime lead to 35-28.
One of the highlights of the first stanza was the fact that VCU held Nevada’s top player, Luke Babbitt, to only four first half points on a miserable 2-11 shooting.
“It wasn’t about anything any individual was doing offensively,” Babbitt said. “It was about as a team we couldn’t quite get over the hump.”
VCU held the Wolfpack to 26 percent shooting in the first half.
Although Nevada’s offense picked up in the second half, the Rams’ depth, pressure and athleticism took over the game.
VCU outscored Nevada 21-8 in the first eight minutes of the half, and the Rams were even able to stay under control when their superstar, Sanders, went down hard and left the game with cramps with 14:13 remaining.
“I thought that easily could have been a huge turning point in the game, but I thought our guys did a good job picking it up and hanging in there while he was out,” Smart said.
The Rams pushed their lead to 20 at the 12:23 mark when Nixon swiped an inbound pass and dunked it home.
However, Nevada began to chip away at the VCU lead from there, as Babbitt began to put on a clinic and almost single handedly brought his team back.
The sophomore scored 17 points in the final 12 minutes of the game. The Wolfpack were able to get the lead back to single digits.
But that would be as close as they would get.
“As players, I feel like last year we relied too much on, ‘We have Eric Maynor.’ This year we are maturing and I feel like we are holding ourselves accountable to the things we need to do to keep a lead,” Nixon said.
Nixon hit his version of “the dagger” when he hit a momentum-changing 3-pointer with 58 second, left to push the lead to 10.
VCU was able to run out the clock, grabbing an 85-76 victory on Black Friday.
Sanders recorded his 15th career double-double, and his first of the season with 17 points and 14 rebounds.
Nixon finished with a career-high 17 points and Bradford Burgess (Midlothian/Benedictine) scored 12. Jay Gavin (Seat Pleasant, Md./Marist University) and T.J. Gwynn (Burlington, N.C./Cummings) notched nine points each.
Babbitt led the Wolfpack with a game-high 27 points. Nevada put three other scorers into double figures: Joey Shaw (14), Brandon Fields (13) and Dario Hunt (10).
The Rams (4-1) play Rhode Island on Wednesday. Tip off at the Siegel Center is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
By the numbers
Nevada (2-2): Fields 13, Shaw 14, Babbitt 27, Johnson 8, Hunt 10, Giles 0, Cukic 4, Kraemer 0, Carp 0
Totals: 29 17-26 76
3-pointers: Shaw 1 (1-14 team)
VCU (4-1): Gavin 9, Sanders 17, Rodriguez 7, Burgess 12, Gwynn 9, Theus 3, Pishchalnikov 4, Rozzell 7, Nixon 17
Totals: 29 23-35 85
3-pointers: Burgess 1, Rozzell 1,
Nixon 2 (4-16 team)