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VCU’s men’s basketball team thrives off threes.
The squad has made marked efforts to improve their interior and post play through a greater focus on giving senior big-man Jamie Skeen the ball this season.
But the shot behind the arc remains the Rams’ most wicked weapon.
So when they opened up Saturday night’s Homecoming game against UNC Wilmington with a stunning series of six consecutive 3-pointers – swish after swish after swish – the air of inevitability already began rising in the arena.
And it was a packed arena with 7,552 loud, passionate fans – the Siegel Center’s first sellout of the season – who witnessed the Rams cruise to a 79-70 win in which they never trailed and truly had the game comfortably in hand throughout.
“It’s just how it worked out,” senior point guard Joey Rodriguez said, in reference to the barrage of 3-point shots. “We took what they gave us; they were playing zone, so we knew we had to hit some shots.”
VCU head coach Shaka Smart thought on a similar wavelength.
“When a team plays zone (defense), that’s what they dare you to do,” Smart said. “We have good shooters; I’m not going to tell Joey or Ed (Nixon) or Brad (Burgess) not to shoot an open shot; it just doesn’t make sense to me.”
The win keeps the Rams’ momentum moving right along with their win streak now at nine and stretches their active home winning streak to 22. The squad is also now only three wins away from tying the school’s all time winning streak record, achieved between the years of 1969 and 1972.
“Playing in front of that type of atmosphere and home crowd, it does so much for players, coaching staff and program,” Smart said. “The feeling was infectious.”
Wilmington head coach Buzz Peterson – best known as Michael Jordan’s college roommate – marveled at what the adverse atmosphere could do for his team.
“Great environment for college basketball tonight,” Peterson said. “I’m excited our guys got to play in something like that.”
VCU sophomore guard Troy Daniels – an unheralded sharpshooter who gets white hot when he’s in rhythm – began his first start of the season off by canning a 3-pointer right in his defender’s face. But just over a minute later, Daniels went down in agony, clutching his foot after coming down hard on it while fighting off a screen.
Though the injury looked worrisome, most were taken by surprise when Smart revealed in the post-game press conference that Daniels had broken his foot. The injury – which Smart speculated could be a broken metatarsal, which typically requires 4-6 weeks out – means yet another player has been bitten by an injury bug that’s starting to run rampant on the roster.
Daniels joins senior forward Jamie Skeen and senior guard Brandon Rozzell on the injured list for now. Skeen’s knee injury is thought to not be serious and Rozzell – the team’s third-leading scorer – is expected to return within the next two weeks.
That’s where depth has come into play.
“If we didn’t have depth coming in (to the season), we’d be in big trouble right now,” Smart said. “Depth, particularly in the back court, is what has allowed us win lately.”
Burgess – who’s turned into VCU’s iron man – having started every game of his career at the school since his freshman year in 2008 – viewed the tough news with a glass-half-full approach.
“It’s an opportunity for other guys to step up,” Burgess said. “It’s an opportunity for us to get closer together.”
Photo by: Kyle Laferriere