Assistant Sports Editor
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It’s one of, if not, NCAA basketball’s most underrated rivalries.
When VCU and Old Dominion cross paths during conference play each year, there is something special about each meeting.
Whether it is a “white-out” for the Monarch faithful or a “black-out” for the Rowdy Rams, a potent atmosphere is created by the two schools separated by a short span of Interstate 64 that has generated a rivalry in the overlooked Colonial Athletic Association like never before.
The latest edition of the rivalry came Saturday night as the Rams traveled to Norfolk and edged the Monarchs 59-50 in front of a sold-out crowd of 8,457 in the ever-so-hostile environment of the Ted Constant Convocation Center.
When reminiscing on the intensity and the atmosphere of the game, VCU senior forward Jamie Skeen was left nearly speechless.
“The crowd was pretty much what made it like that, the crowd was crazy,” Jamie Skeen said. “Great crowd; it just made it more intense.”
“I was just excited to finally get the chance to play ODU,” junior guard Bradford Burgess said. “It’s a great rivalry between us; it’s always a tight game between us, and I guess I got hot in the first half, but I was just ready to play; the whole team was ready to play.”
The win comes as a taste of revenge for VCU after being knocked out of the CAA Tournament by ODU in a 73-69 overtime thriller last March, vanishing any hopes of a NCAA Tournament bid.
Prior to Saturday night’s meeting the Rams and Monarchs had split the previous 10 meetings evenly, 5-5.
Like every great rivalry, each game features a key matchup.
In the 2009-2010 season it was Gerald Lee versus Larry Sanders.
This year however, Skeen and ODU senior Frank Hassell fit the bill in providing the weightiest bout, contending for territory in the paint, a place where the Monarchs out-rebound their opponents by a margin of 11.2 rebounds per game.
Despite Hassell having the home-court edge, Skeen managed to take place as the dominant post player, recording a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds to Hassell’s six points and seven rebounds.
“Throughout the week we had been hearing of how great offensive rebounding of a team ODU is,” Skeen said. “So the big-man coach been telling me that I need to keep Hassell off the boards, and so that was my main focus throughout the game, to keep him off the boards.”
The battle between Skeen and Hassell was simply a testimony to the upperclassmen contribution that always proves crucial in big-time rivalries.
Of the 109 points scored in Saturday’s tilt, 101 were provided by upperclassmen, including a pivotal 3-pointer by VCU senior guard Joey Rodriguez that gave the Rams a 55-50 lead with 1:56 to play.
“Our young guys were very jittery at the beginning of the game,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said. “It was going to take our older guys to calm them down, and I thought they did a good job of this.”
“We’re going to go as far as our upperclassmen take us, and so will they.”
Saturday’s victory comes as the first win at the Convocation Center for the Rams since 2008 in a rivalry that has slowly but surely made its name as the CAA’s version of Duke versus North Carolina.
In the tug-of-war rivalry that has the Rams carrying a slight 43-40 all-time edge, each meeting leaves not just the fans, but players wanting more.
“Everybody likes to hype it up for what it is,” Hassell said. “Every year they’re a top-four team in the CAA; we’re a top-four team, and they just came more prepared and more ready to play this time.”
The two teams will meet again Feb. 12 at the Siegel Center for a match that is all but destined to, yet again, bring drama, excitement and suspense.
But for now, VCU holds the bragging rights in this bitter rivalry.