NEW YORK, N.Y. – After defeating Wake Forest last week, a beat writer for the Demon Deacons wrote an article about the maturation of Jamie Skeen, the starting forward for the Virginia Commonwealth University men's basketball team, since he left Wake two years ago.
On Friday afternoon, Skeen showed the whole nation that maturation process, leading his Rams to a 89-85 victory over PAC-10 power UCLA in the third-place game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden.
"It's really just about our team executing our game plan," Skeen said. "We have so many guys that can score on different nights and tonight just happened to be my night. I really felt like we missed an opportunity against Tennessee and we just wanted to come out and prove that we can play with three high-level programs."
The Charlotte, N.C. native finished with 23 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots, while shooting 8-of-13 from the field. Junior Bradford Burgess and senior Joey Rodriguez joined him in double-figures with 15 and 14 points, respectively.
"Our guys knew coming in if we played the way we know we can, we can play with anybody in the country," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "We had outstanding performances from so many different guys today and that's what makes this a great win."
Skeen came out on a mission scoring six of the game's first eight points to quickly give the Rams an 8-0 cushion just under three minutes into the contest.
However, UCLA would respond as a putback by Anthony Stover brought the Bruins within two at 14-12 with 13:37 to play in the first half.
As they did the whole half, the Rams would put together a run of their own sparked by a nice lay-up by sophomore David Hinton. The lay-up would ignite a 9-0 VCU spurt that gave the Black & Gold it's biggest lead of the game at 23-12 with just over nine minutes left before the break.
Malcolm Lee wouldn't let the Bruins get too deep in a hole, knocking down three three-pointers and scoring 13 total first-half points and bringing UCLA within three at 40-37 at halftime.
"Last year we had some games where we lost some second-half leads, but today we showed a tremendous amount of resolve," Smart said. "Our leadership has taken huge steps forward and I thought that was on display today, especially in the second half."
It would become a one-point game twice in the final three minutes, but a huge steal and fastbreak dunk from senior Brandon Rozzell helped seal a thrilling victory for the Black & Gold.
Including Wednesday's showdown at South Florida, VCU will have played teams from the ACC, SEC, Pac-10 and Big East with an opportunity to win three out of four of those contests.
The road game against the Bulls will get under at 7 p.m. and will be available online through WTVR CBS 6 in Richmond.