March 6, 2011

RAMS HALT MASON’S 16-GAME WINNING STREAK, 79-63, MOVE ON TO CAA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

RICHMOND, Va. – In a world where social media has become king, a simple tweet that stated "The game is over, don't forget to tell VCU it's over" gave the Virginia Commonwealth University basketball team more focus then ever.

That focus and determination was evident from the start of Sunday's CAA Semi-Final as the Rams rolled past top-seeded Mason, 79-63, ending the nation's longest winning streak at 16 games and earning a berth in their fifth CAA Final in the past nine years.

"These guys are extremely competitive, so when they are challenged by anyone, they are going to fight back," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "I may be stating the obvious, but every single guy that stepped on the court for us tonight played hard and focused. That's what won us the game."

Once again, senior Jamie Skeen was outstanding with his third straight 20-plus point effort, finishing with 21 points on a career-high four three-pointers. Junior Bradford Burgess tallied his third double-double of the year with a 16-point, 13-rebound performance, while Joey Rodriguez poured in 13 points, dished out four assists and grabbed four rebounds.

"When we are attacking the rim and making the extra pass, we're a dangerous offensive team," Smart said. "That's what led to all the three's in the first half because our guys were able to create open shots for their teammates."

VCU is now the only team in the past five seasons to beat Mason in the CAA Tournament, ending the Patriots tournament run in four of the past five years. It will mark just the third time in the past 19 years that the top seed will not play in the CAA Championship game.

"Today is great, but as soon as that buzzer sounded, we had to move on till tomorrow," Skeen said. "Our goal is 40 minutes away and we're going to do everything in our power to get there."

An early string of three straight three-pointers by the Black & Gold staked VCU out to a 16-8 advantage, but the 25th-ranked Patriots stormed back and eventually took a 20-18 led on an old-fashioned three-point play with 10:03 remaining in the first half.

 That's when the Rams switched up the defenses, which led to five Mason turnovers and a 2-for-12 shooting performance to spark a 21-5 run to close out the stanza and send the Black & Gold into halftime with a 39-25 lead.

With a team sporting a 26-6 record, a run was inevitable and that's exactly what came to start the second half as Long ignited a 6-1 stretch to bring Mason within seven at 40-33 with 18:10 left to play.

However, three-pointers from Skeen and Burgess pushed the lead back into double-digits and that's where it stayed the remainder of the game.

"Mason's a great team and we knew they were going to get rolling at some point, it was just a matter of weathering the storm and sticking together," Rodriguez said. "We are at our best when we stick together on both ends of the court."

VCU's lead grew to as many as 18 in the second half with the Black & Gold stifling the Patriots outside shooting ability, holding them to just six three-pointers and a 24% effort from beyond the arc.

Long led Mason with 20 points on 8-of-20 shooting, while Ryan Pearson was the only other Patriot player in double-figures with 10 points and seven rebound.s

Senior Brandon Rozzell was the fourth Ram in double-digits with 11 points, including two three-pointers. VCU's 11 three-pointers were just one off a tournament record set by Richmond in 1996 and 1997.

The Rams will now face the winner of Old Dominion and Hofstra in the CAA Championship game on Monday night. Tip time on ESPN is set for 7 p.m.

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