HOUSTON, Texas – It won't be tonight, it won't be tomorrow, but sometime in the near future the members of the Virginia Commonwealth University men's basketball team will look back and be able to appreciate what they did over the last month.
That magical run that brought together "Ram Nation" all across the country came to an end with a 70-62 loss to Butler in the national semifinal at Reliant Stadium.
"I can't begin to tell you how proud I am of this group of guys and what they have accomplished over the past month," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "Tonight we weren't able to achieve the outcome we were looking for and you have to give the credit to Butler for knocking us off our game a little bit."
Senior Jamie Skeen was outstanding all night, finishing with game-high 27 points, six rebounds and three assists. Junior Bradford Burgess was the only other Ram in double-figures with 15 points, while he also corralled a team-high nine rebounds.
"Right now it's tough to appreciate this run, but I'm just proud to say I shared it with this group of guys," Skeen said. "They're all my brothers and I wouldn't have wanted to do this with anyone but them."
Prior to this season, no VCU squad had ever won more than one game in the NCAA Tournament. This team won five and gained thousands of fans from across the nation during that run.
"We have the greatest fans in the country and I'm glad that they were able to join us during this run," Smart said. "Not only has the world seen what the VCU Basketball program is all about over the past couple weeks, they've seen how great our fans are, which is great."
Over the past three weeks, the Black & Gold became only the third 11-seed to reach the Final Four by topping the likes of USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas. Along the way, VCU gained national media attention from ESPN, CNN, USA Today, CBS, Fox Sports and much, much more.
"This group of guys won't understand tonight, but down the road, we'll be able to look back and realize, that they changed not only VCU basketball, but the whole university," Smart said. "A whole lot of people around the world now know what a great university this is."
Saturday started with the Bulldogs jumping out to 5-0 lead, but a three-pointer from Burgess with 13:12 to play in the first half capped off a 15-2 run to give the Rams an eight-point cushion.
Butler, led by Shelvin Mack, would chip away at the lead and eventually head into the break with a 34-26 advantage thanks to 22 points from Mack and Matt Howard.
"We knew we had to make adjustments in the second half," Burgess said. "Our aggressiveness wasn't there towards the end of first half and we knew we had to get that back in order to have a chance at the win."
That's exactly what the Rams did, scoring 10 of the first 12 points in the second half to grab a 38-36 lead on a three-pointer from Skeen with 15:16 to play in regulation.
It was a back-and-forth battle for the next four minutes until Mack scored 10 points in a span of 2:21to give Butler a four-point cushion. VCU would get no closer the rest of the way, thanks in large part to the Bulldogs ability to clean the glass (48-32 advantage in rebounds).
VCU finished the season with a school-record tying 28 victories. Seniors Ed Nixon, Brandon Rozzell and Joey Rodriguez finished their four-year careers with 103 wins, which ties a record for the best four-year stretch in school history.