RICHMOND, Va. – Over the past 404 days, the Virginia Commonwealth University men's basketball had tipped it up 22 times inside the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. All 22 times, the Rams left the court as the victors.
On Saturday afternoon, in front of a sold-out crowd and a national television audience, that streak came to an end in a 70-59 loss to in-state and conference rival Old Dominion.
"Needless to say, that wasn't our best effort of the year," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "Give credit to Old Dominion for coming prepared and ready to play. For some reason, we let them be the aggressors for 40 minutes and you're not going to win doing that."
With the loss, VCU drops to 20-7 on the year and 12-3 in conference play, one game better than ODU and a half-game back of George Mason. Depending on the outcome of Mason's game against James Madison later today, the Rams will either be in first or second in the CAA standings.
"As frustrating as today was, the positive thing is that at the end of the day, we're going to be in the top two in the conference no matter what," Smart said.
Senior Brandon Rozzell was the lone Ram in double-figures with 15 points on 5-of-12 shooting, including three from beyond the arc. Classmate Jamie Skeen finished with seven points, seven rebounds and three blocks on the afternoon.
The story came on the glass where ODU outrebounded VCU by a tally of 46-21. Seniors Ben Finney and Frank Hassell led the way for the Monarchs with 11 boards each.
"I can't give you an exact reason why it was that bad," Skeen said. "We did a good job on the boards in the game down at ODU, but we just let them get whatever they wanted down low today. That can't happen again and it won't happen again."
It was a game in which the Rams never could seem to get the engine moving, missing their first seven field-goal attempts, while the Monarchs were able to bang home two three-pointers from Finney and Darius James to run out to a quick 8-0 lead.
Freshman D.J. Haley came off the bench to give the Black & Gold a quick spark with an offensive rebound, block and two baskets as VCU chipped the lead down to four at 12-8.
A couple of three-pointers from Rozzell and Ed Nixon would get to a one-possession game at 18-16, but Hassell ignited a 13-2 run that put the Rams down 13 with just under two minutes to play in the first half.
The Rams would get some momentum heading into the break with three-pointers from Joey Rodriguez and Rozzell to send the teams into halftime with ODU leading 32-24.
Mr. Momentum changed sides quickly with Kent Bazemore connecting on three straight baskets to start the second half and give ODU a double-digit lead at 38-24.
Every time VCU would try to string a run together, the Monarchs had an answer as they allowed the Rams to get within single-digits only one time the rest of the way.
"It was just one of those games that are just frustrating," Rozzell said. "We just never were able to get it going at full steam like we usually do at home. We have to get back to work tomorrow."
Hassell, Finney and Bazemore all finished in double figures with 18, 15 and 13 points, respectively. As a team, ODU shot 48% on the afternoon, while the Rams couldn't get anything to fall at just 37%.
The Rams return to action on Tuesday night when they host the George Mason Patriots in another nationally-televised contest. Tip time for the battle for first-place is set for 7 p.m.