Upset alert? Not on this court. The VMI Keydets took the VCU Rams to the wire Wednesday night, but the Rams grind out the tough non-conference home win to go to 6-2.
A surprisingly frisky VMI team took VCU to the wire Wednesday in a game that bodes well for both squads. For the VMI Keydets, the win showed that they could hang with top level mid-major competition after a pair of disappointing conference losses to Winthrop and Presbyterian. For VCU, it was gratifying to get sophomore Troy Daniels off his shooting slump. Daniels, a guard out of Roanoke, hit four from beyond the arc in the first half last night for a career high 12 points after starting the season 1 for 13. Without him, the Keydets very well might have pulled off the upset.
The Commonwealth of Virginia is home to some of the most extreme basketball styles in the country in William & Mary and VMI, and now VCU has faced both victoriously in five days. Unlike the slow, mind-numbing sloth of the W&M Griffins, the Keydets spend more time running up and down the court than executing their offense. With the #2 offense in the country and the fastest tempo in Division 1 men’s basketball, VMI plays an exciting style that is well worth the price of admission any time they come to town. They press continuously, giving up easy layups to get steals and open three point shots in transition. It’s a dicey gamble, but when they can hit some three-pointers, watch out.
The Rams’ four senior starters put their experience to good use adjusting to a shaky start. After VMI jackrabbited out to a 12-4 lead, VCU went on a run to close the first period fueled by VMI turnovers against the VCU press defense and a mountain of 3-pointers from Troy Daniels. VCU’s full court defense put enough players in enough different spots than VMI was expecting to choke off VMI’s ability to bring the ball up the court effectively. As the dance team took the floor for the halftime break, VCU was up 46-35 and threatened to pull away.
But VMI seemed to gain confidence instead of losing it after switching directions to face the student section, and managed to keep the game close throughout the second half. On several occasions the Keydets got within 1 point, the last of which was with 4:26 remaining in the contest. But from that point VCU went on a 6-0 run while getting some clutch offensive rebounds and grinding away enough of the clock to put the game out of reach.
For VMI, freshman point guard Rodney Glasgow bounced back from his poor shooting effort against Presbyterian to hit 50% from the floor and all five of his foul shots for 14 points. This kid is fun to watch and can break your ankles if he wants, but made several freshman mistakes that need to be ironed out over the course of the year. Austin Kenon and Keith Gabriel led the Keydets with 17 points apiece, while lanky sophomore Stan Okoye had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, but had 7 turnovers attempting to deal with VCU’s deadly defense.
It is gratifying to see that Highland Springs product Brandon Rozzell has now grown up to take a leadership role for VCU. Last night he scored 18, and Wake Forest transfer Jaime Skeen notched 19 to lead the Rams to victory. The best word to describe the Rams’ performance and play style is “precise.” Precise in their execution of plays and in their swarming trap defense, and precise with their 9 of 17 three-point shooting.
They will need all their precision on Saturday against their toughest remaining foe and the best basketball team in the Commonwealth, the University of Richmond Spiders. Tip for the Black & Blue Classic is 7pm at the Robins Center.