RICHMOND, Va. – Holiday travel is always pretty hectic. When you throw in a blizzard hitting the majority of the East Coast, it makes it even worse. The Virginia Commonwealth University men's basketball team learned in the past few days with several players being delayed in their return to Richmond.
Two players that didn't leave the Capital City showed that being home for the holidays can give an extra spark. Senior Brandon Rozzell and junior Bradford Burgess combined for 31 points to lead the Black & Gold to a big win over Southern Conference power Wofford, 75-66, in the second game of the Richmond Marriott Holidays on the Hardwood Classic.
"That's a big, big win for this team," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "Many people might not know about Wofford, but that's a team that will win 20-plus games and have a great chance of returning to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. I'm proud of the way our guys pulled together tonight."
Rozzell drilled four three-pointers and went a perfect 6-of-6 from the charity stripe for 18 points, while Burgess chipped in 13 points, four rebounds and three assists in the victory. Senior Joey Rodriguez was the third Ram in double-figures with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting.
"We knew coming back from break that we needed to get something rolling and put things together," Smart said. "Our upperclassmen know what it takes to win in league play and with that right around the corner, we were focused on getting in a rhythm on both ends of the court. I think we were able to accomplish that for the most part."
It was a back-and-forth battle for the first six minutes with a three-pointer from Kevin Giltner putting Wofford up 10-9 at the 14:33 mark of the first half. That's when the Rams went on a run with a jumper from Burgess capping off a 9-0 jolt to give the Black & Gold control of the contest.
The lead would get no lower than four and no higher than nine as the two teams fought tooth and nail before Rodriguez connected on a fall-away jumper with just under ten seconds to play, but a deep three-pointer from Jamar Diggs as the buzzer sounded sent the Rams into halftime with a 33-27 advantage.
Terry Martin and Cameron Rundles sparked the Terriers coming out of the break and eventually took a two-point lead with 13:51 remaining, but that was the last time Wofford would lead as Rozzell drilled a three-pointer to reclaim the lead for VCU.
Two times down the stretch Wofford would get within two, but clutch plays by the Rams' upperclassmen enabled VCU to pick up the hard-fought 75-66 for their 16th straight home victory inside the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.
"We love playing here, it's home. There's nothing like playing in front of our fans," Rozzell said. "I know that all us seniors talk about having only a couple months left of playing in this building. We want to make the most of it."
Seven different VCU players tallied at least seven points with 17 team assists on the night. The Rams also forced Wofford into 14 turnovers, accumulating in 10 steals, three of which came from sophomore Darius Theus.
Noah Dahlmn and Jamar Diggs led the Terriers with 13 points apiece, while Martin finished with 12 on the evening.
"It's funny how boxscores are sometimes," Smart said. "I thought the guy who had the best game was Jamie [Skeen]. He was playing against a guy that has a chance to be an All-American in Dahlman and he really did a great job on the defensive end."
The Rams now move on to take on the Wildcats of New Hampshire in the championship game of the Holidays on the Hardwood Classic at 7:30 on Thursday night. UNH toppled Cornell 68-66 in the first game of the tournament on Wednesday.