NORFOLK, Va. – On the way home from road wins, the Virginia Commonwealth University men's basketball team usually devours pizza after pizza. Saturday, the Rams might want to leave room for eating some ice cream and cake on the way home after a gutsy 59-50 road win at Old Dominion.
"I'm so proud of the way our guys stuck together and focused on our game plan even when things got tough," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "We knew this arena would be electric and wouldn't be an easy place to play, but our seniors really stepped up and showed resolve and toughness."
The victory was the sixth straight for the Rams, who now stand at 15-5 overall and 7-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association, tied for first-place with the Pride of Hofstra.
Senior Jamie Skeen registered his fifth double-double of the season with 14 points, 10 rebounds, while dishing out a career-high five assists. Junior Bradford Burgess led all scorers with 15 points, while senior Ed Nixon had 13 points and four rebounds for the Black & Gold.
"We knew that it would take a total team effort to not only win in a place like this, but beat a very good Old Dominion team," Burgess said. "That's exactly what we got from every player that stepped on the court for us today."
Quick starts are always an important thing, especially in road games. That's exactly what the Rams were able to do thanks to Skeen, who scored six of the games first 11 points and staked VCU to an early 9-2 lead with 16:04 to play before halftime.
As expected, the Monarchs would not go away quietly, hitting four three-pointers, two off the hand of Trian Illiadis en route to an 11-4 run, which evened the game at 18-18 with 7:20 left in the first stanza.
After the teams traded baskets for the next four minutes, VCU ended the half on a 9-5 run, highlighted by a three-pointer from the corner off the hot hands of Burgess, who led all scorers at the break with 12 points.
Thanks to nine first-half turnovers by the Monarchs and the Rams winning the rebounding battle 19-16, the Black & Gold took a 31-27 advantage into halftime.
Behind five points from Darius James, Old Dominion ripped off a 11-3 run to start the second half and took their first lead since the opening possession at 38-34.
"That's when us seniors really wanted to make sure we didn't panic. Coach called that timeout and we all wanted to calm down and put together a run of our own," Skeen said. "That's exactly what we did."
The back-and-forth battle continued over the next nine minutes with neither team leading by more than three points, until Nixon got a floater in the lane to go and Burgess drilled a three from the corner to give the Rams a 50-46 lead with 5:12 remaining in regulation.
A jumper from freshman Juvonte Reddic countered two ODU baskets as the Rams found themselves up two with just less than two minutes to play. That's when senior Joey Rodriguez stepped up and banged home a three that was the ultimate nail in the Monarchs' coffin.
Both Rodriguez and Nixon hit a pair of free-throws down the stretch to preserve the critical 59-50 victory for the Black & Gold.
One of the biggest stats of the day came on the glass where Old Dominion entered the game with a +11.2 rebounding margin, the Rams limited their opportunities and only lost the board battle by just four, including 10 offensive boards for VCU.
Along with his outstanding offensive efforts, Skeen was just as good defensively, holding All-CAA big man Frank Hassell to just six points and seven rebounds, including going 2-of-8 from the field. No Monarch scored in double-digits in the contest.
Rodriguez finished with nine points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals, yet another outstanding all-around effort from the Merritt Island, Fla. native.
"This game is huge, but we have to be able to realize that it's just one game," Rodriguez said. "Just look at the road game against Georgia State, we weren't focused and we got beat. We can enjoy this moment, but as soon as we step on the bus, it's on to the next game at Towson on Monday."
A quick turnaround awaits the Black & Gold as it heads north to take on the Tigers of Towson University in a 7 p.m. contest on Monday evening.