The men’s basketball team first had to cast aside its NCAA Tournament hopes because of an exit that came too early in the CAA Tournament.
Then, the Rams had to deal with their disgust at being snubbed for the National Invitational Tournament by an NIT Selection Committee that put 11 teams with inferior RPIs into the tournament ahead of them.
So after VCU begrudgingly accepted its place in the obscure College Basketball Insider Tournament, the Rams may have been forgiven for letting the season pitter off quietly.
Yet to the contrary, the Rams have being playing with a refreshed, if not relaxed, enthusiasm ever since and are now in the three-game series final of the CBI after soundly defeating Boston University 88-75 before 3,352 spectators at the Stuart C. Siegel Center last night.
“I think everybody is more focused on winning and getting this championship (than worrying about being left out of the NIT),” sophomore Bradford Burgess (Benedictine/Richmond) said. “Now we have one more team to play and hopefully we can get it done.”
Though VCU boasted a resounding 16-1 home record going into the game, Boston had more than enough reasons to be confident they could steal a result in what was the first match up between the two schools since 1978. The Terriers, coached by a fellow first-year head coach in Patrick Chambers, had won 10 of 12 games coming into the night and are coming off their first consecutive 90-plus point performances since 1974.
True to form, Boston came out the more aggressive team in the first half and put the Rams on their heels through the play of American-East All Conference guard John Holland and forward Jake O’Brien, who both seemed to have VCU’s defensive efforts figured out early.
VCU, although having trouble stopping the Terriers, made sure Boston never gained a large lead through the play of habitual starters Burgess and Larry Sanders (Fort Pierce, Fla. /Port St. Lucie), and through seldom-used freshman guard Troy Daniels (Roanoke/William Fleming)— who hit two big three-pointers in a span of 36 seconds midway through the half. The Roanoke native, who saw minimal minutes in the regular season, is one of many players on the team who are benefiting from head coach Shaka Smart’s tinkering in what is now a prolonged run into the postseason.
“90-some percent of teams are done playing and we’re not,” Smart said. “We have the opportunity to get better as a group and also individually and if you look at these three CBI games that we’ve played in, we’ve really had some individual guys step up and had some great accomplishments come their way.”
VCU came out of halftime much more in tune and exploded out to a 9-0 run to transform a one-point half time deficit into a sudden eight-point lead. The Rams were also getting stingier on the defensive side of the court and didn’t allow a bucket for over five minutes coming out of halftime. Boston, who hit seven first half three-pointers, didn’t hit their first trey in the second half until there was just over six minutes remaining.
With the win already safely assured for the Rams by that point, the only remaining matter for the Rams to tend to was to get Joey Rodriguez (Oviedo, Fla./Lake Howell) his 200th assist of the season. Although eventually attained, the feat left the Florida native none the wiser to his achievement.
With the win already safely assured for the Rams, the last thing to tend to was to get team distributor Rodriguez his 200th assist of the season—a feat which leaves the Florida native in third place in VCU’s all-time assists in a season record behind former teammate and buddy Eric Maynor.
“So I’m with Eric now?” Rodriguez said jubilantly after being alerted to the fact that he had surpassed the 200-assist milestone. “That’s what’s up!”
VCU will now play St. Louis,who defeated Princeton 69-59 in the night’s other semifinal, in a three-game series to decide this year’s CBI winner. The first game will be held at the Siegel Center Monday at 7 p.m. while the second game and, if necessary, third game will be held in St Louis.