The Virginia Commonwealth Rams are known to have one of the most dominant homecourt advantages in college hoops. They came into Saturday’s contest against conference foe Northeastern having won 18 consecutive games in the Stuart C. Siegel Center.
The Virginia Commonwealth Rams are known to have one of the most dominant homecourt advantages in college hoops. They came into Saturday’s contest against conference foe Northeastern having won 18 consecutive games in the Stuart C. Siegel Center. Their success in the friendly confines didn’t translate against the Huskies in the past two seasons, however, as Northeastern won each time in Richmond and had won the last three matchups with the Rams overall.
A huge first half from Bradford Burgess and an equally impressive second half from Jamie Skeen put a halt to that streak.
Burgess dropped 18 points in the first half and finished with 26 overall, and Skeen outmuscled the Huskies consistently in the second half on his way to 18 points and seven rebounds as the Rams got the win, 73-64. Northeastern fell to 4-13 overall and 0-6 in the conference, while the Rams improved to 12-5 and 5-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association.
In the first stanza, the Rams received little production from anyone but Burgess, but it didn’t appear to matter. Burgess mixed three-pointers, offensive stick-backs and an overall array of offensive firepower that kept the Huskies on their heels. In an especially impressive 30-second streak, Burgess scored on a putback before stealing the ensuing inbounds pass and being fouled. After knocking down both free throws, he then tied up Northeastern for a jump-ball that gave the ball back to VCU. At the other end, he then hit an impressive fall-away bank shot off the inbounds pass. In all, Burgess scored nine straight points in one stretch and VCU took a 30-22 lead into the half.
The second half was a different story early on, as Northeastern cut down on the turnovers that had ailed them in half number one and began a torrid shooting display. Chaisson Allen, Joel Smith, and Alex Harris traded three-pointers and difficult jump shots to pull the Huskies back into the game. Smith led his team in scoring with 17, while Allen had 16 and Harris 11. In fact, Northeastern ended up shooting 55% for the game to VCU’s 50%. Numerous times down the stretch Northeastern pulled to within one basket, but each time VCU had an answer. “I’m proud of the way this team continues to play with a resolve and toughness about them, and that is all led by our upperclassmen,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said. “Northeastern made some tough shots and they are going to be a tough out in the league, but we stuck together and were able to knock down the big shots when we needed them the most.”
The answer to Northeastern’s shooting usually resided in the post presence of Skeen, who drew numerous fouls and converted often at the foul line while also doing a fantastic job of distributing from the paint to open Rams on the perimeter. Skeen and the other VCU big men helped the Rams finish with a 28-19 advantage on the boards. With deadly three-point shooter Brandon Rozzell out three-to-four weeks with a broken hand, Ed Nixon, Joey Rodriguez, and Rob Brandenberg picked up the slack with crucial second-half triples.
With 3:03 remaining the Rams led by just three following a jumper from Smith for Northeastern. Nixon answered on the ensuing possession with a three-pointer. Coach Smart said, “Ed’s shot was really the play of the game. They had continually made tough shots in the second half and weren’t going away, but Ed was able to step up and deliver big time when we needed him the most.” he Rams then ratcheted up their defensive intensity, including a steal from Rodriguez and feed to Burgess for the exclamation point dunk that put the game out of reach with 45 seconds left. Northeastern went 2:26 without a bucket before Smith’s three with 37 seconds left, and by that time the Rams had sealed their 19th consecutive victory at home, tied for the sixth-best mark in the nation.
The Rams next play Georgia State on Wednesday in an attempt to push their homecourt streak to 20. If the production from their post players continues to be as impressive as it was on Saturday, the Siegel Center will again prove to be a very difficult place to play for any opponent.