BALANCED ATTACK LEADS RAMS PAST SEAHAWKS, 79-70, ON HOMECOMING
RICHMOND, Va. – In everything in life, options are always a nice thing to have on your side.
The VCU men's basketball is showing that on a nightly basis as the Rams used had four players in double-figures to pick up their ninth straight win and 22nd consecutive home victory with a 79-70 defeat of the Seahawks of UNC Wilmington.
Senior Joey Rodriguez led all scorers with 25 points in his final Homecoming game as a member of the Black & Gold with the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel packed to the tune of 7,552.
"First and foremost, I have to say that this crowd was electric from the start and I really think that played a key factor in tonight's win," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "As for our guys, I'm just so proud of the way we have been able to stick together with key guys going down. It says a lot about a team if they continue to win in the face of adversity."
Along with Rodriguez, junior Bradford Burgess poured in 17 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, while senior Ed Nixon scored in double-figures for the third time in five games with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
VCU's pressure defense caused the usually deliberate, almost methodically Seahawks into a fast-paced game which led to 18 turnovers and 14 steals for the Black & Gold, three each from Rodriguez, Nixon and sophomore Darius Theus.
"I knew they had been really pressuring the ball well of late and I had worries about that heading into this type of atmosphere," UNC Wilmington Head Coach Buzz Peterson said. "They have a plethora of guards that they can run at you and that's with some key guys out. It's easy to see why they are the best team in our league right now."
A key to the Rams' defensive strategy was to neutralize UNC Wilmington's All-CAA guard Chad Tomko. Led by Nixon, VCU's defense was suffocating an unrelenting, holding him without a shot attempt for the game's first nine minutes.
On the other end of the court, the Rams were stroking three-pointers left and right, connecting on seven shots from beyond the arc in the game's first 10 minutes of action and led 25-13 with 11:17 left before halftime.
Back-to-back three-pointers from Trevor Deloach and Tanner Milson brought the Seahawks within six, but long balls from Rodriguez and Nixon closed out the half and sent VCU into the break with a 42-31 advantage.
UNC Wilmington wouldn't die as Tomko cut the lead to eight with a jumper at the 18:16 mark of the second half, but VCU answered with a three steals in the next two minutes and ripped off a 6-0 run that pushed the lead to 14.
The lead reached 17 on two occasions, but the Seahawks kept clawing and would forced the Rams to knock down five of six from the charity stripe in the final two minutes to secure the 79-70 victory.
VCU's second-half charge was led by junior Toby Veal, who came off the bench to tally 10 points, all in the second half, as well as grab four rebounds.
"As a coaching staff, that's what we've been looking for out of Toby all year," Smart said. "He's battle several nagging injuries, but when he brings that level of energy and excitement to a game, he's a tough player to deal with. I thought it was by far his best game of the year."
Deloach led UNC Wilmington with 20 points and five rebounds, while Tomko and Ahmad Grant finished with 15 and 14 points, respectively.
VCU, who sits atop the CAA standings at 10-1, will now take its nine-game winning streak on the road with a Wednesday night showdown in Boston with the Huskies of Northeastern. Game time is set for 7 p.m.