RICHMOND, Va. – In the popular game show "Deal or No Deal", contestants are given 26 cases to try and win a million dollars. Head Coach Shaka Smart might feel like a contestant every night out this year as his Virginia Commonwealth University men's basketball team displayed quite a balancing act in its exhibition opener.
Six different Rams scored at least eight points en route to a 71-56 victory over Virginia Union in the annual U.S. Army Downtown Showdown on Thursday night at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.
"There were good things, but there were a lot of things we need to work on," Smart said. "We definitely have a lot of guys that can put the ball in the basket, but it's a matter of each guy showing up every time on out the court and that's what we need to improve."
After a sluggish start to the evening, VCU found themselves in a 10-7 hole, but three baskets by junior college transfer Toby Veal sparked a 34-9 run for the Black & Gold that ended the first half and gave the home squad a 41-19 lead at the break.
The Rams were stifling on the defensive end for the first 20 minutes, holding the Panthers to 23.8% from the field and forcing 18 turnovers, while tallying 11 steals.
"It seemed for most of the first half, every guy who took the court in a white uniform really bought into everything we were trying to accomplish," Smart said. "For some reason, that changed in the second half. That can't happen."
Branden McDonald and Braxton Byerson led a Union charge out of the half that finished at 18-4 and brought the Panthers within eight at 45-37 with 15:29 to play.
Senior Jamie Skeen sparked the Rams, scoring three baskets and eight points, including a four-point play that helped VCU keep a double-digit cushion the rest of the way and preserve the 71-56 win.
Freshman Rob Brandenberg may have been the talk of the night for the Black & Gold faithful, notching 10 points and three steals in just 14 minutes of action.
"Rob can be one of the best guard to play here if he continues to work and get better," Smart said. "He does a lot of great things, but he's still got a ways to go to reach the level we think he can play at."
VCU opens its regular season next Friday when the Spartans of UNC Greensboro come to Richmond for a 7:30 p.m. showdown at the Verizon Wireless Arena.