RICHMOND, Va. – There's a great quote out there that says, "Many of the great accomplishments of the world were accomplished by tired and discouraged men who kept on working."
That mentality is exactly what the Virginia Commonwealth University men's basketball will take as it hits the practice court at Franklin Street Gym tomorrow morning. After all, the Rams will be looking to shake off a tough two-game home stretch which concluded Tuesday night with a 71-51 loss to a red-hot George Mason squad.
"First off, I give a lot of credit to George Mason and the way they took advantage of our mistakes and really showed why they are in the position they are in," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "On our end, I thought we played hard, but we lacked communication and execution on the defense end. That's where we're going to win games, on the defensive end. It doesn't matter how good or bad you shoot if you're not executing your defense plan."
VCU now sits at 20-8 overall and 12-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association. With Drexel losing a road contest at UNC Wilmington, the Black & Gold have secured a first-round in next month's conference tournament.
"We have two weeks to get hard at work on the practice floor," Smart said. "As a program, we're going to spend every waking minute finding ways to improve on the areas we need to heading into this final stretch."
Freshman Rob Brandenberg was the only Ram in double-digits with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, while knocking down a pair of three-pointers. He was the only player that could seem to get going as VCU had a tough night shooting, connecting on just 37.0% of their field-goals. Classmate D.J. Haley was a bright spot for the Black & Gold, scoring a career-high six points in 14 minutes.
On the other hand, Mason drilled 47% of the field goals and notched five players in double-figures led by Ryan Pearson, who finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Luke Hancock was a threat in every way with 10 points, eight rebounds and seven assists on the evening.
"The most impressive thing about Mason is the way they've improved from last year," Smart said. "Every single player on that roster has gotten so much better and when they are playing with the confidence that they are right now, they're an extremely tough team to beat."
From the tip, it was a struggle to get the ball in the basket for VCU, starting 1-of-9 from the field and falling into a 19-9 hole after Vertrail Vaughns drilled a three-pointer with 11:08 remaining in the first half.
Enter Brandenberg. That's when the Gahanna, Ohio native scored eight of the game's next 10 points to quickly bring the Black & Gold within four at 21-17 with just over six minutes left before the break.
"I just wanted to come off the bench and give energy to us at that point," Brandenberg said. "I wasn't worried about scoring or getting my shots, I just wanted to find a way to get us back in the game."
However, Vaughns and the Patriots would respond with a 13-2 run to end the half and take a 34-19 cushion into halftime.
Before VCU could blink, Cam Long drilled two three-pointers and Pearson connected on two buckets to increase Mason's lead to 21 at 45-24 with 15:46 on the clock.
The lead would never drop below 15 as the Patriots continued to fill up the basket as well as hold a 37-28 advantage on the glass to secure the 71-51 victory.
"It's embarrassing," senior Joey Rodriguez said. "Every guy in that locker room is focused on getting better right now. We're too good of a team to be playing like this. It's time to turn the page and focus on finishing the rest of the regular season strong."
VCU now moves out of conference to participate in the ESPNU BracketBusters as they travel to take on the Shockers of Wichita State on Friday. Game time for the ESPN2 televised contest is set for 7 p.m.