It’s a simple equation: Beat the opponent on the boards, force the opponent to turn the ball over and, perhaps most importantly, hold your opponent under its points per game average.
Saturday night, VCU’s men’s basketball team hit all three points on that checklist and, with the help of a sell-out Stuart C. Siegel Center crowd, the Rams were able to win its third game in four tries over arch-rival Old Dominion, 70-58.
“As a coach you prepare and treat every game very similar, but in reality in this game there is another level of energy,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said. “I thought our guys did a nice job of transferring that excitement and energy.”
Before the game even tipped off, Rams fans got a dose of shock when they learned that star forward Larry Sanders (Fort Pierce, Fla./Port St. Lucie) would not start because of disciplinary action by Smart.
But despite the expected holein the first five, senior Kirill Pishchalnikov (Maykop, Russia/MGGTK AGU) filled in admirably and played a nearly flawless game for the Rams.
“Kirill is a really hard worker,” Sanders said. “I knew he was going to (be) ready, I have so much faith in him and he went out there and proved me right.”
Later, when asked if he still thought he has a starting job, Sanders replied, “I dont know man,” with a smile.
If this game was to be a Rams’ victory, the first eight minutes served as no indication, although Pishchalnikov did score six of VCU’s first eight points.
The Monarchs repeatedly broke the VCU press for easy buckets, rolling out to a 18-8 lead and grasping all of the momentum.
However, on that 18th point, ODU’s Kent Bazemore was given a technical foul for taunting after a dunk.
Although in the long run the play didn’t really serve as a determinant to the outcome, it did temporarily change the momentum.
VCU went on a 13-4 run to gain the lead back.
“I don’t think either team shot particularly well … I think both teams’ defense had a lot to do with that,” Smart said.
That run took the game from what looked like an ODU romp to a nip-and-tuck battle through the end of the first half.
ODU took a 33-31 lead into the break.
The second began in much the same way, until VCU broke out on an 11-2 run capped by a Pishchalnikov bucket.
Joey Rodriguez (Olviedo, Fla./Lake Howell) knocked down a jumper with 16:38 remaining as part of that run to give VCU back the lead.
The Rams would never surrender that lead again.
Both Sanders and Pishchalnikov, along with Bradford Burgess (Midlothian/Benedictine) were brilliant down the stretch for VCU.
Another factor was that the Monarchs’ leading scorer, Gerald Lee, was held to only four second half points, none of which were near the basket.
According to Smart, this was greatly thanks to the defensive effort of Sanders.
“He (Sanders) asked to guard Gerald Lee before the game … It was just a matter of ‘want to’ on the part of our guys,” Smart said.
With Lee and ODU’s other top scorers, Ben Finney and Frank Hassell, held to only 10 combined points in the final 16 minutes, the Rams were able to coast to a large lead.
VCU got its first double-digit lead at the 5:37 mark of the second half, and ODU was never able to get that deficit lower than eight.
When the clock hit triple zeros, the Rams had a 70-58 win under their belts, the team’s 10th in 11 games played against the Monarchs at the Siegel Center.
With the win the Rams moved to 17-5 on the season and 9-4 in CAA play. VCU sits a mere game out of second in the CAA with a big upcoming game at George Mason on Tuesday.
Burgess scored a game-high 16 points to go along with 14 from both Sanders and Pishchalnikov. Sanders charted his seventh double-double of the year, adding 12 rebounds.
The Rams out-rebounded the top team in the CAA in that category by a count of 39-37 and scored 40 points in the paint to ODU’s 24.
Bazemore led the Monarchs with 12 and Hassell added 10.
The crowd of 7,556 made for the fourth sellout of the season, tying a school record.
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