CHICAGO, Ill. – When the Virginia Commonwealth University basketball team arrived in Chicago on Thursday, the "Windy City" was covered in green to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.
On Friday, the city was covered in black and gold as the 11th-seeded VCU Rams dominated sixth-seeded Georgetown to record two wins in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. It now faces third-seeded Purdue on Sunday with a Sweet 16 bid on the line.
"I'm really proud of the way our guys have committed themselves to both sides of the court," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "This group of guys truly loves playing together and they just don't want it to end."
Senior Brandon Rozzell was the biggest story as the Richmond, Va. native tied a career-high with six three-pointers and finished just one shy of a career-high with 26 points. Classmate Joey Rodriguez was the floor leader all night for the Black & Gold, notching 17 points, seven assists and two steals.
"We've got four seniors on this team that love this game and know that if we lose, it's over," Rodriguez said. "We're best friends and we just don't want to go home."
The story of the night was VCU's defense, which stifled their Big EAST foe into a 38.5% shooting night and 17 turnovers. The Hoyas' two all-conference performers, Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, finished a combined 6-of-27 from the field.
"It's a matter of being locked in and communicating on the defensive end. When we do that, we truly believe we can guard anyone in the country," Rozzell said. "We're certainly going to need to take both those things up to new levels on Sunday against a very good Purdue team."
The game began as a back-and-forth battle with five ties and four lead changes in the first 10 minutes. However, it quickly became a one-sided contest when a three-pointer from Rodriguez capped off a 9-0 spurt by the Rams to claim a 27-19 advantage with 5:28 remaining in the first stanza.
Georgetown would record just two field-goals the rest of the half, while VCU attacked the basket and got to the free-throw line 17 times. The trips to the charity stripe helped the Rams take a comfortable 35-24 lead into the break.
"We've been talking since the start of the conference tournament about being the aggressors," Smart said. "Being the aggressors doesn't always mean you're getting to the free-throw line a bunch, but it can and that's what happened tonight."
If there was still doubt whether the Black & Gold could hold on, it was taken away in the first five minutes of the second half as VCU jolted out of the locker room on an 11-4 run to push its lead to 49-28 with 14:53 showing on the regulation clock.
A three-pointer by Rozzell with 7:07 left would give the Rams a 25-point cushion. It was the largest deficit that Georgetown faced all year.
The lead would never drop below 13 as Rodriguez, Rozzell and Nixon drilled six free-throws in the final three minutes to secure a trip to the Third Round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
Joining Rozzell and Rodriguez in double-digits was junior Bradford Burgess and senior Jamie Skeen, who both finished with 12 points on the night. Burgess also added eight rebounds, four blocks and three assists.
VCU now advances to take on third-seeded Purdue on Sunday. Tip time is set for 6:10 CST/7:10 EST.