RICHMOND, Va. – With a new year on the horizon, the VCU men's basketball team tried to end the current year on a positive note with a showdown against New Hampshire in the championship game of Richmond Marriott Holidays on the Hardwood Classic.
Thanks to a trio of upperclassmen, the Rams did just that cruising to a 78-65 victory over the Wildcats to claim their first in-season tournament title since the late 1980's in the old Richmond Times-Dispatch tournaments.
"I'm proud of the way our guys put together a championship victory. It's always a good thing when you get to hoist a trophy," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "We have a lot of great stat lines tonight. That being said, we saw a lot of things that we need to work on if we are going to contend for a title in a league that is going to be very competitive."
Junior Bradford Burgess poured in 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds en route to being named the tournament's MVP. Senior Brandon Rozzell, the other Ram named to the All-Tournament team, knocked down six three-pointers for a total of 23 points, along with two rebounds and two steals.
"For two Richmond guys to come out and have games like they did over the past two nights is a great thing," Smart said. "We all know how talented both those guys are and we're excited what they are going to bring to the table the rest of the year."
VCU jumped out to an early lead and never looked back with a three-pointer from senior Jamie Skeen giving the Black & Gold an 18-9 advantage with 11:08 to play in the first half.
The Wildcats would cut the lead to seven with just over four minutes remaining before the break, but Rozzell and Burgess would score the next 12 points for the Rams to ignite a 12-2 VCU run that sent the Black & Gold into halftime with a 43-26 cushion.
VCU's blitz would not lose steam in the second half as Rozzell drilled four three-pointers in the second half and the lead ballooned above 20 for much of the final stanza.
After a three-pointer from freshman Rob Brandenberg gave the Rams a 26-point lead, New Hampshire's toughness allowed the Wildcats to claw back and end the game on a 15-4 run, but the early cushion allowed the Rams to win comfortably, 78-65.
"I know there are a lot of positives tonight, but our coaching staff knows that in order to hold that trophy in March, we need to improve in a lot of areas," Smart said. "Mainly our leadership has to get better. With better leadership comes less mistakes, more focus and more discipline."
Skeen was the other Ram in double-figures with 18 points on 5-fof-8 shooting, while grabbing five boards and dishing out two assists. Freshmen Juvonte Reddic and D.J. Haley gave the Black & Gold solid minutes off the bench, combining for seven points and 10 rebounds in 22 minutes of action.
"Juvonte and D.J. gave us a lot of energy of the bench and did some good things tonight," Smart said. "I got on them a little bit after the game, but that's only because we know how good they can be. We really feel that our future is bright with those guys leading the charge."
Chandler Rhoads led the Wildcats with 15 points on the night, while Brian Benson poured in seven points and grabbed 11 rebounds for UNH.
The Rams head into conference play with a 9-4 record and will look to improve upon their 1-0 record in conference play when it heads to Atlanta, Ga. on Monday, Jan. 3rd for a 7 p.m. tilt against Georgia State.