NORFOLK, Va. – The VCU and Old Dominion rivalry is the best in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of the most underrated in the country. Neither team had swept the regular season series since 2004.
That streak ended on Saturday afternoon when VCU fought their way to a thrilling 68-64 victory over the Monarchs at a sold out Ted Constant Convocation Center. It was the second straight win in Norfolk for the Rams, marking the first time since 2003-2004 when VCU won back-to-back games at the Convocation Center.
"I'm really proud of the way our guys battled and made the plays they needed to in order to get the win," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "I give a lot of credit to Old Dominion and how tough they were on the boards, particularly in the second half. They were really good in their zone today, which gave us some problems, but our guys showed resolve and we had several guys step up and make big time plays late in the game."
The game lived up to the hype with it being a one-possession game for the final 6:30 of the contest. Old Dominion held a three-point lead as the game entered the final minute, but senior Bradford Burgess drilled a trey of his own to tie the game with 52 seconds remaining.
HAVOC took over on the next ODU possession as sophomore Juvonte Reddic ran through a Monarch pass and fed junior Darius Theus for an old-fashioned three-point play and a 64-61 lead for the Black & Gold. ODU's Trian Illiadis missed a three-pointer next time down the court, Theus grabbed the rebound and was fouled. The Portsmouth, Va. native stepped up and knocked down both free-throws to extend the lead to 66-61. Illiadis would hit a trey for ODU, but freshman Briante Weber followed by knocking down free-throws of his own to seal the thrilling 68-64 victory.
"I was just trying to do what I needed to do to help my team win," Weber said. "It means a lot to be able to do it down here, where I grow up and help my team come away with a victory."
The victory is the 11th straight for the Black & Gold who improve to 22-5 on the year. It's the longest winning streak since 1984-85.
"We just have to stay focused on what we can control," Theus said. "There are so many other factors that happen during a game, but you can only control so much. If we stay focused on those things, we'll always have a chance to win. That's what we've been able to do for the past few weeks."
Burgess was phenomenal once again for the Rams with a game-high 24 points on 6-of-12 shooting, including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc. He also added six rebounds and a career-high five steals on the afternoon. Theus was the other player in double-figures for VCU with 14 points, including a 5-of-5 performance from the charity stripe.
"We know we're the leaders of this team, but we've shown that on any given night a different guy can step up for us. Tonight just happened to be Darius and my's turn," Burgess said.
Behind a raucous crowd, the Monarchs jumped out to a 12-point lead after Donte Hill connected on a three-pointer to give ODU a 26-14 with 7:24 remaining in the first stanza.
The next 16 seconds changed the tide of the game with a bucket from Reddic, two free-throws by Burgess, a steal from Burgess, a trey from Burgess, a steal by Troy Daniels and a trey by Daniels equaled a 10-0 run and momentum had switched sides.
ODU would push their lead back to seven, but that's the highest it would get the rest of the way as VCU clawed back within 36-33 at halftime.
The second half would be a defensive battle with VCU's halfcourt toughness making the difference as the Monarchs missed their first 17 field goal attempts, which allowed the Rams to roll off a 12-1 run and take an eight-point lead, 45-37, with 11:09 remaining.
Kent Bazemore would spark an ODU run that brought the Monarchs within three and set-up the thrilling final minutes of VCU's victory.
The Rams finished with 11 steals on the day, marking the 15th time this year that they reached double-digits in that category. VCU remains the nation's leader in total steals with 278 on the season.
VCU will remain on the road with another tough test on Tuesday evening in Fairfax against George Mason. Game time on Comcast SportsNet is set for 9 p.m.