A step ahead of the rest: VCU defeats VMI in fast-paced battle

Jim Swing
Assistant Sports Editor
Commonwealth Times Sports’ Twitter

Troy Daniels has a long-range jumper that he has hidden all season. Just ask teammate Brandon Rozzell.

“We’ve been waiting on it all season,” Rozzell said. “He does it to us in practice every day and it’s worse than that, I’m talking about when we’re in his face. We knew it was coming and today was the day, we give him all the credit in the world.”

The sophomore shooting guard drained four 3-pointers for a career-high 12 points to help VCU to a 86-80 victory over the Virginia Military Institute Keydets, who rank second in the nation in scoring, averaging 95.1 points per game.

In a first half that would consist of quick transition on both sides of the floor, VMI began on the better foot; jumping out to a 12-4 lead less than four minutes in.

After having seen enough Smart went to his bench and replaced four of the Rams’ starting five.

The move had immediate impact for the Rams who capped off a 8-0 run with back-to-back 3-pointers from Bradford Burgess and Rob Brandenberg to tie the game at 12.

Enter the Troy Daniels show. Daniels, who has shot 1-13 from beyond the 3-point line so far this season, managed to hit four treys, including a shot that topped off a 10-0 VCU run to put the Rams up 35-25 with just under four and a half minutes remaining in the first half.

VCU would finish the half on a positive note with a 7-0 run highlighted by a layup off a steal from the hands of Brandenberg to put the Rams ahead 46-35 at the break.

“I thought we did pretty good on transition,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “I was really proud on the offensive end, we talked about getting great shots and I thought in the first half every shot we took was a high-level shot.”

The Rams shot 18-40 from the field in the first half along with 6-of-11 from beyond the arc.

At the start of the second half, the Keydets would once again ride a strong start on a 9-0 run finished by a commanding dunk by Keith Gabriel.

VMI’s well-structured shooting performance would help cut the VCU lead to two, 60-58 on consecutive 3-pointers from Michael Sparks and Autin Keenon with 11:47 remaining in the second half.

The Rams would not be stymied by the Keydets’ persistence however, with help from Rozzell who scored seven points on three consecutive VCU drives to build a 63-58 lead with just over 10 minutes to go.

“Brandon made some huge plays down the stretch,” Smart said. “I think a huge difference with him between his junior year and senior year, he’s developed a terrific poise under pressure and he’s demonstrated that here (at the Siegel Center) and also away from home and that’s what we needed tonight when the game got tight.”

The Keydets would come as close to within one-point of the VCU lead four times in the remaining 10 minutes but the Rams would not break, winning their 14th straight game at the Siegel Center to improve to 6-2 on the season.

“Congratulation to VCU, they’re as good as advertised,” VMI head coach Duggar Baucom said. “We thought coming into the game they were every bit as good as West Virginia who we played earlier in the year, they have a lot of weapons.”

The Rams head into Saturday’s match against the cross-town rival Richmond Spiders having won their past two games by an average of 5.5 points.

“I think being in tight games and coming out ahead it’s obviously something you can learn from and something you can build on and experience you can draw on when you’re in tight games down the road,” Smart said. “As far as Saturday we just need to get right into our preparation and start focusing on Richmond, and I don’t think that will be hard for our guys to do.”

Photo by: Kyle Laferriere

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