PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Entering the last five games of the regular season, the Virginia Commonwealth University men's basketball team knew that it would have to be at its best in the rebounding category. With three of its last five opponents ranking in the top-five nationally in that area, the Rams had no choice.
For 37 minutes on Wednesday night, the Black & Gold did exactly that. The problem is that a college basketball game is 40 minutes and the Rams were unable to stop a gritty Drexel squad in a 64-60 loss inside the DAC.
"I thought we battled and fought hard, but only for 37 minutes," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "The same type of plays that we made to beat a very good Wichita State team last Friday were the exact same that Drexel made tonight. They beat us to the 50-50 balls, they made the hustle plays, they got the offensive rebounds. We can't win if we don't fight for 40 minutes."
Senior Jamie Skeen led the way for the Black & Gold, notching 17 points, four rebounds and three blocked shots. Classmates Brandon Rozzell and Joey Rodriguez were the other two Rams in double figures with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
"We know what we have to do, it's just a matter of us doing it," Rodriguez said. "Tonight is unacceptable. We can't continue to be inconsistent with our effort and that's on us as leaders. If we want to reach our goals, we have to be better."
Drexel jumped out to an early 9-3 lead after a couple early VCU turnovers, but Skeen muscled his way to 15 first-half points and eventually drilled a three-pointer to give the Black & Gold a 28-25 advantage with 3:12 remaining in the first stanza.
However, back-to-back three-pointers by Derrick Thomas and a dunk from Dartaye Ruffin quickly changed momentum and sent the Dragons into halftime with a 33-28 cushion.
Out of the break, Rozzell and freshman Juvonte Reddic led the Rams on a surge that was capped off with a three-pointer and drawing a fourth foul on Drexel big man Daryl McCoy, which led to VCU holding their largest lead of the game at 42-38 with 13:41 to play.
After the Dragons had tied it up at 47 with 7:32 remaining, the basket got smaller for the Rams and bigger for Drexel. Over the next four minutes, VCU would go 1-of-7, while the Dragons connected on 5-of-6 to hold its largest lead of the game at 56-49.
"That stretch is exactly what I was talking about," Rodriguez said. "In the Wichita State game, we went through a tough shooting stretch, but we didn't allow it to affect us on the defensive end. Tonight, we did and it gave them the opportunity for some easy baskets, which ended up costing us the game."
Even with the tough shooting, the Rams found themselves within three, but five offensive rebounds for the Dragons over the final three minutes of the game allowed Drexel to hold on and pick up the 64-60 victory.
"Our coaches talk about rebounding all the time, we practice rebounding all the time, we just have to do it for 40 minutes," Skeen said. "We go through stretches where we rebound well, but in order to be a good team, you have to do it for the whole game. We didn't do that tonight."
VCU, who was without freshman guard Rob Brandenberg due to a thigh contusion, saw extended minutes for Reddic and classmate D.J. Haley. The inside duo combined for 10 points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots.
"I thought our freshman bigs were very good for us tonight," Smart said. "They have both made huge strides and it's a promising future, but we have a lot of basketball still to play this year and that's what we're focused on."
The regular season wraps up for VCU on Saturday when Nationwide Insurance hosts "Senior Day" at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. Tip time against James Madison is set for 12 p.m.