The Rams’ last home game of the season was dedicated to seniors Kirill Pishchalnikov (#11) and T.J. Gwynn (#42). Beyond Senior night, the Rams were also fighting for a W in hopes of being one step closer to clinching the #4 seed in the upcoming CAA Men’s Tournament.
The Rams’ last home game of the season was dedicated to seniors Kirill Pishchalnikov (#11) and T.J. Gwynn (#42) (hats off to you if you can pronounce the first name). Although the both of them did not contribute much to the scoreboard last night, Smart stated he was proud of their presence and contributions on the floor. For Gwynn, he confessed it was an emotional night with this 76-62 win over the Dukes, he passed Maynor as the winningest player in VCU Basketball history.
Beyond Senior night, the Rams were also fighting for a W in hopes of being one step closer to clinching the #4 seed in the upcoming CAA Men’s Tournament. Typically, no one gives a flying &*%# about the four seed, however this spot will secure them a first round bye. With the win tonight, the question now largely depends on their performance this coming Saturday. If they defeat Old Dominion, it’s a done deal. But if they lose, they have to await the outcome of the William & Mary game later that night. (See Saturdays Schedule).
Historically, VCU holds a 41-20 series lead against the Dukes overall (including a 24-7 margin in home games). But with the Rams defeat against the Dukes just a few nights ago, there was a slight hesitation in the crowd’s confidence. Fortunately for VCU, the first four minutes dispelled any concerns. Rodriquez rallied the troops by leading a 13-2 run against the Dukes (11 of those points would be his). In simple words, Rodriquez said, “When their throwing the ball to me, I’m gonna shoot it.” But it wasn’t all glitter from Rodriquez. In those first four minutes, the Dukes would turn over the ball 6 times, providing the Rams ample scoring opportunities. Coach Brady of JMU admitted, “We were inconsistent. We were throwing the ball all over the gym . . . . Every time we made a mistake, they scored. VCU is a very opportunistic team.”
Even with such a deficit, the Dukes kept fighting. The Rams continued to try and harass their point guards with a full court press, but more often than not, their defense broke down giving big man Bowles of JMU some great inside looks. The Dukes would take advantage of the press and start a 16-6 run of their own, bringing the score to 19-18 with 8:30 remaining on the clock. Bowles would claim 11 of those points. Smart eventually cut the full court press, slowing the momentum of the game. The Dukes true colors began to show, exposing a motion offense that was slow and predictable. Yet, they were able to keep pace by maintaining a 52% field goal percentage (compared VCU’s 37%) in spite of having 1/3 less attempts at the rim. The score at half was 37-33.
In the opening five of the second half, the Rams and the Dukes would continue to trade buckets. But it wasn’t pretty – any fight that JMU had left in them got rattled when the rim got sassy with Flores as he went up for a monster dunk. The Dukes unsuccessfully attempted redemption, but missed two put backs off the boards – it was painful. Not long after, Sanders would show JMU how it’s done by bringing the height of a 17-4 run home with slamtastic dunk of his own. The crowd was screaming like a room of small school girls and the score was now 63-45. “We’ve known that the second half is a struggle for us,” Burgess said “Having that run was huge for us”.
Exhausted, Bowles and Pierre would find a second wind and lead the team on a 9-0 run, bringing the score within 7 with 6:13 remaining. Unfortunately, two key turnovers would result in a layup for Burgess and a dunk for Nixon, turning the tide in the Rams favor. The score was now 69-54 with five minutes remaining. At this point, the Dukes had given up. They came out with another full court press, but scaled back to a lackluster defense once Rodriquez crossed half court. Both teams traded buckets for the remainder of the game, but VCU secured the deserved victory of 76-62.
This win brings the first, four consecutive seasons with 20 wins or more to VCU’s mens basketball program.