BURGESS, SKEEN LEAD RAMS TO REVENGE VICTORY OVER NORTHEASTERN, 73-64
RICHMOND, Va. – If there was a cartoon made about Virginia Commonwealth University basketball over the past three years, the Rams would play the role of "Wile E. Coyote" and the Northeastern Huskies would be the roadrunner.
Northeastern came into Saturday afternoon's match-up having defeated the Black & Gold three straight times, including two inside the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. The Huskies were the only team to beat the Rams at home in the past three years, a span of 40 games.
VCU's upperclassmen would not let it happen again as junior Bradford Burgess and senior Jamie Skeen combined for 44 points, 16 rebounds, six steals and four assists to lead the Rams to a tough 73-64 victory over the Huskies.
"I'm proud of the way this team continues to play with a resolve and toughness about them, and that is all led by our upperclassmen," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "Northeastern made some tough shots and they are going to be a tough out in the league, but we stuck together and were able to knock down the big shots when we needed them the most."
It was the 19th straight home win for the Black & Gold, which is tied for the sixth-longest such streak in the country. The last time VCU lost at home was Jan. 4, 2010 to Northeastern, a span of 376 days.
"We just love playing here," Senior Ed Nixon said. "It was easy tonight because of the success they had here in the past, but every time we step on this floor, we have a mentality of defending our home turf. There's too much support and love from our fans for us not to come out with that thought process."
The Huskies made the first basket of the game at the 19:39 mark of the first half, but that was the last time they would lead as Burgess scored seven of the game's next nine points to stake VCU to a 9-2 advantage.
All-CAA guard Chaisson Allen would help Northeastern claw back within two quickly, but Skeen and Burgess keyed a 8-0 run that gave the Black & Gold a 17-7 cushion with just under 10 minutes left to play in the first half.
The first-half lead would reach as high as 13, before Allen scored Northeastern's last five points to send the teams into the break with VCU leading 30-22.
Nixon would connect on an old-fashioned three-point play at the 16:39 mark of the second half to push the Rams lead to 11, but red-hot shooting from beyond the arc would keep the Huskies within striking distance until late in the contest.
With VCU leading 62-59, Nixon stepped up and drilled a three-pointer from the left wing that ultimately was the nail in the Huskies' coffin with senior Joey Rodriguez going 4-for-4 from the charity stripe in the final 1:36 to seal the victory.
"Ed's shot was really the play of the game," Smart said. "They had continually made tough shots in the second half and weren't going away, but Ed was able to step up and deliver big time when we need him the most."
Nixon was the third Ram in double-figures with 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting, while both Rodriguez and freshman Rob Brandenberg tallied seven points apiece.
It was the point guard play of Rodriguez and sophomore Darius Theus that was sensational all night with a combined 12 assists, five steals and just three turnovers.
"When your point guards are able to distribute, turn the opponent over and not turn it over themselves, you're going to win games," Smart said. "When those guys have a stat line like they did, we're going to win a lot of games."
The contest marked the third straight time VCU had out-rebounded their opponent as well, winning the battle of the boards at a 28-19 advantage. Both Skeen and Burgess had four offensive rebounds each.
Joel Smith led the Huskies with 17 points, including five three-pointers, while Allen finished with 16 points and five assists.
VCU returns to action on Wednesday evening when the Panthers of Georgia State come to Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center for a 7:30 p.m. tip.