RICHMOND, Va. – There's a saying out there that goes "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
That's mantra that the Virginia Commonwealth University men's basketball is taking after grinding out another nail-biting win, this time over Tulane, 70-67, for the program's 15th straight victory at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.
"I was pleased with the way we started the game. We have been talking all week about coming out aggressive and really attacking them on both ends and I thought we did that," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "Unfortunately, we didn't keep that sense of urgency and mindset for the full 40 minutes and allowed Tulane to make a game of it."
For the fifth time in the first 10 games, senior Jamie Skeen led the way for the Black & Gold with 15 points, while grabbing six rebounds and blocking three shots. Junior Bradford Burgess was the other Ram in double-figures with 10 points to go along with five rebounds.
As they have all year, VCU shared the ball well, dishing out 16 assists on 23 field-goals, as well as tallying 11 steals on the afternoon, but Tulane won the battle of the boards 34-28, 16 of which came on the offensive glass.
"Bottom line we have to get better on the boards, every one of us has too. Rebounding takes a total team effort and it's something we have to clean up," senior Joey Rodriguez said.
VCU knocked down its first three field-goals, two from beyond the arc, to quickly grab a 10-4 advantage, but Tulane would cut it to 11-10 after a David Booker fast-break layup.
Three forced turnovers and solid post play by Skeen sparked a 15-5 run that gave the Black & Gold a 26-15 lead with just under 10 to play in the first half.
Freshman Juvonte Reddic (seven first-half points) would help the Rams preserve a double-digit cushion with a free-throw from Burgess sending VCU into the break leading 40-27.
"I actually thought our half-court defense was very good throughout the game," Smart said. "The defense in the second half was we allowed them to get 10 offensive rebounds and our second-chance defense wasn't very good. It will improve, it has to improve."
Stellar point guard play by sophomore Darius Theus (five assists, one turnover) allowed the Black & Gold to keep the lead above double-digits until the last five minutes of the contest.
With the Rams leading 61-50, the Green Wave's Kendall Timmons took over scoring 12 second-half points and igniting a 11-2 run that brought Tulane with two at 63-61 with 2:54 to play.
However, an acrobatic lay-up from Rodriguez and free-throws from Theus and Rozzell helped VCU secure the 70-67 win.
"We can't keep doing this and losing our focus at points during the game," senior Ed Nixon said. "It's not that we don't know what position to be in or what play to run, we're just not locked in for 40 minutes and that has to improve if we want to reach the goals we set for this team."
Timmons led all scorers with 16 points and eight rebounds, while Aaron Holmes came off the bench for the Green Wave to chip in 14 points and grab seven boards.
The Rams return to action on Tuesday evening against another former conference foe, UAB. Tip time in Birmingham is set for 8 p.m. EST.