Sometimes in sports, the numbers do lie. How else to explain the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams’ victory over visiting East Carolina University on Tuesday night, a game in which the statistics largely favored the visitors after the contest was over?
Sometimes in sports, the numbers do lie.
How else to explain the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams’ victory over visiting East Carolina University on Tuesday night, a game in which the statistics largely favored the visitors after the contest was over? The Rams withstood torrid shooting from the Pirates (now 5-8), especially from swingman Jamar Abrams, to emerge victorious and improve to 8-2 overall on the season. ECU shot 55.8% for the game and 47% from three-point land to the Rams’ 44.3% from the field and 37.9% from three. The difference, however, was the timeliness of VCU’s plays.
Early on, the up-tempo pace forced by the Rams seemed to rattle the Pirates into a hurried offense they weren’t suited for. That was until the shots started to fall.
The Pirates’ jump shooters, especially their wing players, helped to lead the visitors from Conference USA to a first half of 60.7% shooting from the field. Abrams poured in 15 points in the first half on 6-9 shooting, and the Pirates withstood early domination by Larry Sanders and the early intention of Virginia Commonwealth to force the action in ECU’s backcourt to keep the game tight.
“Abrams is a terrific player. He really gave us trouble all night with his athleticism and his ability to shoot from nearly anywhere on the court,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said.
A high-scoring affair early, the Rams hit six first-half three-pointers and used the play in the paint from Sanders and Jamie Skeen to keep a solid inside-outside approach that had their lead stretched to as much as nine at one point.
However, poor ball-handling and 4-8 free-throw shooting in half number one allowed the Pirates to set their offense and use their quickness on the perimeter to keep the Rams from pulling away. Sanders’ second foul also allowed ECU to use their press-break offense to its fullest extent without fear of an intimidating presence in the paint awaiting their forays to the hoop. A helter-skelter first half ended with Brandon Rozzell’s floater in the lane with .8 seconds left to allow the Rams to head to the locker room with a two-point lead. The lead changed hands 14 times in the first half alone, each team becoming more comfortable with the frenetic tempo.
The second half featured more lead changes, with neither team having difficulty scoring but having plenty of difficulty stretching a lead. Tied at 71 with 4:44 to go after Brock Young’s free throws for the Pirates, Joey Rodriguez made a miracle shot after stumbling through three defenders just shy of the four-minute mark to put the Rams up by two. After the Pirates took another one-point lead, Rozzell answered with a three to give the Rams a 76-74 lead with 2:25 left. After a fruitless ECU possession, perpetual “glue man” T.J. Gwynn converted a putback to give VCU a crucial four-point lead with 2:10 left. The Pirates’ outside shooting deserted them in the waning moments, and Sanders was able to corral the rebounds that helped send VCU to the line repeatedly and seal the victory. In the end, the Rams 19-5 run over the final six minutes put an end to the Pirates’ hopes of victory.
Abrams finished the game with 26 points for the Pirates, and he continually stretched the Rams’ defense with his deep three-point shooting. He finished 5-8 from the arc in the game, and was aided by 17 points and eight rebounds from big man Chad Wynn, who benefited greatly during Sanders’ brief stretches on the bench.
Along with another solid performance from Sanders (a career-high 23 points and nine rebounds), the Rams were greatly aided by the sterling performance of Rodriguez, who emerged from a bit of a slump to score 19 points and dish out five assists. Rodriguez, in addition to hitting three three-pointers, was able to convert numerous opportunities in the paint where it appeared he was at a distinct mismatch against the size of ECU’s post players.
“Joey’s a heady player,” Smart stated. “He’s a guy who seems to know when the big plays are needed and he was able to come through tonight. He’s a good shooter and I knew that at some point his shots would start to fall and it was certainly nice to see it tonight.”
The Rams will hope to use the momentum of this tight, hard-fought win as they enter Colonial Athletic Association play against the University of North Carolina-Wilmington on Saturday.