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VCU guard Joey Rodriguez set a personal best in the team’s opening game against UNC Greensboro Friday night.
Rodriguez – VCU’s eccentric and electric point guard who went from nearly transferring away from VCU following his sophomore season to a now stand out role as the team’s primary leader – did plenty of things right in the Rams’ first game of the season. Probably none more impressive, though, than the two digits that filled up the assists column on his stat sheet: 17.
The 5-foot-10-inch senior missed the squad’s exhibition victory over Virginia Union last week due to a sprained ankle, but he didn’t miss a beat in this game. On his first shot of the night, Rodriguez threw up an effortless three and swished it; on his second shot, he easily converted another, this time from NBA range.
His stat line on the night read to the tune of 22 points, 17 assists, a drawn charge and four steals. His effort was so exceptional, it left head Coach Shaka Smart unsure if he could get a better game out of him ever again.
“You’re always going to try,” Smart said with a smile. “But from a number standpoint, I don’t think it gets much better … It’s one of most impressive displays of running a team and getting your teammates involved that I’ve seen since I’ve been in coaching.”
Other players stepped up too. After being called out by their coach following the victory over VUU for their lack of intensity, the frontcourt force of junior transfer Toby Veal and senior Jamie Skeen came to play Friday.
Veal – a physical specimen of a player who seems most apt at replacing former player Larry Sanders as the team’s resident, walking highlight reel – had 11 points, three blocks and a freakish five offensive rebounds in only 15 minutes of play due to foul trouble. And Skeen, a player who had been earmarked by coaches as one of this season’s emerging leaders, showed what he can offer when he’s on: 22 points, seven rebounds and a sheer domination in the paint that he modestly took little credit for after.
“Joey (Rodriguez),” Skeen said when asked why he was so successful on the night. “He gave me the ball, he penetrated and dished, so nothing I created was by myself … I pretty much was just feeding off him. He was the man tonight.”
He wasn’t, however, a total do-all, fix-all for the Rams. The team gave up a bloated 86 points to UNC Greensboro and allowed the Spartans to make runs in both halves that drop what had been big-time deficits to single digits. Veal got into foul trouble; freshman forward D.J. Haley was understandably shaky in his first game for the school.
The team did, though, tie a school record that has stood since 2002 for home wins in a row with 12. They can now have the record all to themselves if they win against William and Mary in the team’s opening conference game Dec. 4.
“Well, it starts with our crowd and our students, but really all our fans are phenomenal,” Smart said. “They give our guys so much energy that we feed off it, and it allows us to play our style of play, and we’ve done some good things at home, but I think we can continue to do even more.”
Photo by Kyle LaFerriere