After Tuesday night’s loss at George Mason, any VCU fan was left wondering if the Rams would be able to rebound in yet another tough game against an in-state opponent.
They got their answer Saturday as the Rams blew another halftime lead on the road and lost to James Madison 76-71.
“I’m very disappointed with tonight,” VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart said. “This is a loss that will cause some deep soul searching from every single person involved with our program, starting with me.”
The eerie thing was that the script of this match up was very similar to Tuesday’s loss. Again the Rams started out in a back-and-forth dog fight only to eventually pull away thanks to hot shooting.
With both Larry Sanders (Fort Pierce, Fla./Port St. Lucie) and Kirill Pishchalnikov (Maykop, Russia/MGGTK AGU) going to the bench with foul trouble, VCU flourished because of the play of Jaime Skeen (Charlotte, NC/North Mecklenburg) and T.J. Gwynn (Burlington, NC/Cummings).
The two post players scored a combined 20 points in the first half. JMU was only able to keep pace with the VCU onslaught because of the play of its big man Denzel Bowels. The Texas A&M transfer scored 17 in the first stanza and was particularly dominant in the final six minutes.
VCU went into the break with a 41-33 lead after shooting a staggering 64 percent in the first half and out rebounding the Dukes 19-11.
However, the first half momentum would be short lived once again as JMU came out of the locker room on an absolute tear. The Dukes hit seven of their first eight shots en route to a 19-2 run, giving them the lead 52-43.
Yet another VCU halftime lead on the road had been erased and now the Rams would have to play catch-up. But unlike the Mason game, VCU was able go on a run of its own to get back into the ballgame.
Behind Ed Nixon (St. Petersburg, Fla./Lakewood) the Rams scored 12 of the next 16 and found themselves down only one with 7:56 remaining. The Rams were also helped by the fact that Bowels fouled out with 7:36 left on a cheapy underneath the basket.
With their leading scorer out, JMU turned to the reigning CAA Rookie of the Year Julius Wells. Wells took the task and absolutely took over the game. Number 34 in white scored nine points in the final seven minutes including a clutch three with 46 seconds left.
For VCU, it was Sanders and Joey Rodriguez (Olviedo, Fla./Lake Howell) who kept them in the contest. The duo scored 14 of the Rams’ 16 remaining points. But the shooting of JMU would finish the VCU effort off once and for all.
The Dukes hit two tough 3-pointers in the final two minutes, one by Wells and the other by Pierre Curtis. Curtis also nailed four free throws to officially finish the Rams off in the final minute. Madison pulled the upset on their home floor, 76-71.
Bowles finished as the games’ leading scorer with 21, however he was basically irrelevant because of foul trouble in the second half. Wells scored 20 and Curtis has 10. Freshman Trevon Flores, who had additional responsibilities with Bowels out, finished with nine and was a savior for the Dukes’ post effort.
The Rams were led by Sanders with 15 and Rodriguez with 14. Nixon also added 14 for VCU. Skeen, who was a star for the black and gold in the first half, was held scoreless in the second half and finished with 12.
The Rams drop to 17-7 and 9-6 in the CAA. Now in fifth, the Rams’ game with fourth-placed Drexel on Tuesday in Richmond has even greater importance attached to it in the Rams’ quest for a first-day bye in the CAA tournament.
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