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Starting games off strong has been quite the issue for the VCU men’s basketball team thus far this season.
That problem came to an end Saturday in the Rams 70-67 victory over Tulane in which VCU shot just over 63 percent in the first half to help get off on the right foot.
“I was really happy with the way we started the game after our last four games,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “It’s something we talked about quite a bit this week, starting the game with aggressiveness and then on the offensive end executing our stuff.”
VCU began arguably its best first half performance all season with a 5-0 run consisting of two consecutive forced turnovers on Tulane capped off by a 3-pointer by Bradford Burgess.
Just over two minutes into the game Shaka Smart utilized his first substitution to insert freshmen forward Juvonte Reddic into the game.
The first-year player has seen limited playing time so far this season, but Reddic would show immediate impact in the paint, forcing two consecutive defensive fouls and earning consecutive trips to the free throw line for three of his career-high seven points on the day.
“Juvonte has always had the talent ever since he stepped foot on campus,” senior guard and mentor Ed Nixon said. “But I feel like recently he’s really starting to get the mental part of the game and him doing that really buys us a lot of time for bigs to get more rest.”
The Rams would gain their largest lead of the half on a set of free-throws from Bradford Burgess that put VCU ahead 40-27 going into the break. In a first half that would be dominated by VCU, the Rams spread the ball around the court, splitting scoring from inside the paint and the field half-and-half.
VCU would begin the second half with the same energy as the first with help from a Nixon layup to put the Rams up 42-27 and give them their largest lead of the game.
Despite controlling the lead the entire length of the game, the second half would not pan out as well for the Rams who were out-rebounded 22-11 after the break.
The Green Wave would cut the VCU lead to single digits on four separate occasions in the first 10 minutes of play in the second half to keep the intensity level high at the Siegel Center.
A jumper from Kendall Timmons began a 7-0 Tulane run that spanned over the course of two-and-a-half minutes to bring the Green Wave to within four points with just over three minutes remaining in the game.
Nearly a minute later, Jordan Callahan would bring Tulane as close as they had been since the start of the game on a layup off a steal to cut the VCU lead to two.
With a two point lead and the game in his hands, senior point-guard Joey Rodriguez utilized his agility to convert a stunning one-handed layup to give the Rams a 67-63 lead with 38 seconds remaining.
A couple key free-throws from Darius Theus and Brandon Rozzell sealed the victory for VCU to improve to 7-3 on the season.
“I thought we’ve worked on the defensive end for the most part but we need to work on our offensive rebounding,” Rodriguez said. “The effort was a lot better than we’ve had in the past three or four weeks so that’s something we can build on.”
Senior forward Jamie Skeen led the Rams for the third straight game with 15 points and six rebounds.
“I think he’s been more aggressive,” Smart said. “He knows he’s our go-to player under the basket and I think he’s done a good job taking advantage of that.”
The win comes one day shy of a year after VCU defeated Tulane 78-77 in New Orleans last season.
Photo by Kyle Laferriere