AROUND THE HORNS: RAMS GO TO THE BLOCKS FOR THRILLING WIN

By Chris Kowalczyk

RICHMOND, Va. – Calling VCU's win over Drexel Saturday ugly is a bit of an insult to all the ugly basketball games out there. But like a made-for-CBS March Madness snapshot, the lasting memory from the Rams' 62-60 victory will be Jamie Skeen's season-saving layup at the buzzer.
 
Skeen's baseline spin and subsequent bucket capped a thrilling, albeit forgettable, contest in the Colonial Athletic Association quarterfinals. The fourth-seeded Rams advance to face top-seeded and 25th-ranked George Mason in the semifinals Sunday at 12 p.m. at the Richmond Coliseum.
 
It was two weeks ago to the day that VCU (22-10) traveled to Philadelphia and lost a similarly bruising contest to Drexel (21-10), 64-60.
 
But the difference on Saturday was the Rams' ability to pound the ball inside to Skeen and Bradford Burgess against the physical and foul-prone Dragons, something VCU could not do last time around. Skeen and Burgess combined for 24 second-half points Saturday. Skeen finished with 24 points and eight rebounds, while Burgess scored 15 points.
 
The Rams' aggressive approach inside also had Drexel fighting major foul trouble. Forwards Dartaye Ruffin, Darryl McCoy and Samme Givens all fouled out for the Dragons, and two other players had four fouls. VCU shot 36 free throws, making 25. By comparison, Drexel was 10-of-17 at the charity stripe.

"When the game is being called that way, we want to be even more aggressive on our offensive end," said VCU Coach Shaka Smart, now 3-1 in CAA Tournament contests. "Because the reality is, when a foul is called, 90-some percent of the time when we have the ball, it's going to be on them. And visa versa on their end. Jamie did a great job of attacking and drawing fouls, that's why several of their big guys fouled out."
 
Drexel is known for its defensive-minded, in-the-trenches approach. VCU is not. But the Rams did an excellent Drexel impersonation on Saturday. Rebounding, which was heavily lopsided in favor of the Dragons in these team's first two meetings this season, was a mere four-rebound margin on Saturday.
 
In a game with 46 personal fouls, frustration was bound to spill over eventually, and it did for Drexel in the second half. With 6:09 remaining and VCU holding a 50-45 lead, Dragons' Coach Bruiser Flint was assessed a technical foul. Joey Rodriguez hit one of two free throws to give the Rams a 51-45 advantage.
 
"I just said, that's a foul," Flint said following the game. "They like to give me technicals here in Richmond. I don't know why I got it."
 
Flint picked up two technical fouls and was ejected near the end of Drexel and VCU's Jan. 5 contest at the Siegel Center, a 52-48 Rams' victory.
 
For years, VCU has been the CAA's resident gunslinger, residing at or near the top the league's 3-point ladder. Heading into Saturday's game, VCU ranked 24th nationally in 3-pointers per game (8.2), but against Drexel the Rams took just 10 shots from beyond the arc and made three. Instead, VCU managed to score a combined 51 of 62 points in the paint or at the free throw line.
 
With the game tied at 60-60 after back-to-back clutch 3-pointers from Drexel's Chris Fouch, VCU went down low. Following a timeout with 13.2 seconds remaining, Rodriguez threw the ball on the right wing to Ed Nixon, who lobbed an entry pass to Skeen on the right block. With the clock ticking down, the senior forward from Charlotte took three dribbles, drop-stepped with his left foot and spun towards the right baseline before laying the ball off the glass at the final horn.
 
"I didn't have a clock in my head, so I didn't know how much time was left on the clock," Skeen said. "I was just playing basketball…I was just trying to make my move to my strong hand, which is my right and I did and he gave it to me so I took it."
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"We wanted to deny Skeen, but it didn't happen," said Flint.
 
VCU's victory sets up a rematch with the streaking Patriots, who own a 16-game winning streak, the nation's longest. George Mason (26-5), routed Georgia State, 68-45. Mason thumped the Rams, 71-51, on Feb. 15 at the Siegel Center. It's a beating the Rams haven't forgotten.
 
"It's an opportunity to redeem ourselves," Burgess said.
 
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