WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – With the news of senior Brandon Rozzell being out for several weeks with a broken hand, the VCU men's basketball team entered Wednesday's contest against in-state and conference rival with the mentality of "Next Man Up."
Freshman Rob Brandenberg apparently was that man, delivering the most points by a VCU freshman since Domonic Jones in 2000 with 22 to lead the Black & Gold a 70-52 victory over the Tribe.
"I'm really proud of this team and the way they approached this game tonight," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "We knew coming in that we would have to have a ton of intensity and focus on both ends of the court, especially with the injury to Brandon. That was exactly what we did, particularly on the defensive end where I thought we were excellent."
Brandenberg scored 19 of his 22 points in the second half, connecting on 9-of-13 from the field, as well as knocking down four three-pointers. Senior Jamie Skeen picked up his fourth double-double of the season with 15 points and 12 rebounds to go along with four assists.
"It was a little odd for us, but in the second half we wanted to run everything through Jamie," Smart said. "When they brought help on Jamie, he was able to kick it out and when they didn't, he was able to get a shot or go to the line."
Sophomore point guard Darius Theus had one of his best performances as a Ram with seven points, six assists and five steals with just one turnover on the night.
"The best part about the performances by Darius and Rob is that it's just the tip of the iceberg," Smart said. "However, with young guys in particular it's important to continue this and bring the same level of focus and energy to our next game."
Defense was the calling card early for the Black & Gold, pressuring the Tribe from the start and holding them without a point for the first 5:59 of the contest. In the meantime, VCU's offense took advantage, taking a 17-4 with 11:57 left in the first half. It was the second straight game that the Rams started with a 17-4 cushion.
William & Mary would wake up a little, cutting the lead under double-digits late in the first half on a running jumper by Kyle Galliard, but a free-throw by Skeen sent the teams into the break with VCU leading 29-20.
Marcus Kitts would spark the Tribe coming out of the break, scoring five points in the first four minutes and cutting the Rams' lead to just three at 35-32.
Enter Mr. Brandenberg. The freshman from Gahanna, Ohio came off the bench to score 10 of VCU's 12 points during a 12-2 run that pushed the Black & Gold lead back into double-digits at 47-34.
"My approach coming into tonight was just like any other night," Brandenberg said. "I wanted to bring energy to the defensive end and do whatever the team needed me do offensively. My teammates got me the shots and I was able to knock them down. The only thing I was worried about was getting the win."
John Mark Ludwick hit a three from the corner to cut the lead to nine with 8:35 to play, but that was the Tribe's last stand as Skeen connected on a three-point play and senior Joey Rodriguez nailed a three-point to quickly push the lead back to 14 at 56-42.
The lead would never get below 13 as Brandenberg scored seven of VCU's last 10 points to secure the 70-52 win.
VCU's defense was the star of the night, holding their third straight opponent under 65 points and forcing 19 turnovers on the evening.
The Rams now take a three-game winning streak into Saturday and a 12 p.m. showdown against Northeastern University. The Huskies are the only team to beat VCU at home in the past three years.