WILMINGTON, N.C. – After pouring in a career-high 27 points in the last year's finale for VCU men's basketball, senior Brandon Rozzell and Head Coach Shaka Smart talked about carrying over that road success into the following season.
That's exactly what is happening and Rozzell showed that once again on Saturday night as he drilled a career-high tying six-three pointers to lead the Rams to a dominating 82-64 road win over the Seahawks of UNC Wilmington.
"I'm really proud of the way our guys stuck together in what really was a tough environment and played one of our most complete games of the year," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "I'm particularly pleased with the way our seniors not only played but were leaders throughout the night. It was a great effort by all four of them."
After losing eight of first 10 trips to Trask Coliseum, VCU has now won four of its last five games inside what was once known as "the toughest place to play in the CAA."
Rozzell finished with a game-high 22 points behind six three-pointers, while senior Jamie Skeen and Bradford Burgess tallied 15 and 14 points, respectively. Senior Ed Nixon not only hounded All-CAA guard Chad Tomko all night, but also poured in 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
"Tonight was Ed's best game of the year," Smart said. "He's always been our best defender and tonight he proved it once again. He doesn't necessarily get the respect he deserves around the league for his defense, but if you look at it, he locked down [Chris] Fouch of Drexel and Tomko in back-to-back games."
Smart couldn't have scripted a better start as the Rams forced the Seahawks to play at their pace, causing four early turnovers and knocking down three shots from beyond the arc to hold a commanding 17-4 lead with 14:34 to play.
That's when the basket closed up for the Black & Gold with VCU, hitting just one of its next 14 field goal attempts. In the meantime, UNC Wilmington settled down and went on their own run with a dunk from Keith Rendlemen capping off a 20-4 run that gave the home team a 24-21 cushion.
Rozzell then sparked a 16-5 run with eight points and gave the Rams a 37-29 lead, but a Trevor DeLoach three-pointer with just under a minute to play sent the teams into halftime with VCU leading 37-32.
"On the road, teams will always make runs, especially when you have a good crowd like it was tonight," Smart said. "We just kept saying to stick together and things will start to fall into place again and that's exactly what happened."
After a jumper from Rendlemen cut the lead to just shortly into the second half, the Black & Gold once again came to life with a 13-4 run, capped by a three-pointer from Rozzell to make the score 52-41 with 14:53 remaining in regulation.
That cushion would continue to grow behind the inside-outside combination of Rozzell and Skeen, getting as high as 21 on three occasions. The senior duo combined for 26 second-half points, going 8-of-10 from the field.
VCU was able limit UNC Wilmington to just six three-pointers on the night and held strong to pick up a comfortable 82-64 victory.
The Rams five upperclassmen (Rozzell, Skeen, Burgess, Rodriguez and Nixon) combined for 72 points and shot nearly 57-percent from the field on the evening.
"We really felt like we needed to get something going after the win the other night over Drexel," Rozzell said. "In order to prove that we could be a great team, we had to come out with a strong effort on the road and we were really focused on that. Now we just have to continue to build on it and get ready for a tough William & Mary squad on Wednesday."
The Black & Gold hit the road again on Wednesday night when they head to Williamsburg to take on the Tribe of William & Mary in a 7 p.m. contest. The game will be shown on CSN-plus with Robby Robinson and Mike Ellis calling the action.