DAYTON, Ohio – For just about 72 hours, it was a widely known fact that the Virginia Commonwealth University men's basketball team had taken issues with disparaging marks made by college basketball experts across the country about their inclusion in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
In just over two hours, that same team silenced all critics and completely shut down the Trojans of USC, 59-46, in the final game of the "First Four" at UD Arena. The Rams now move onto the second round of the play in the NCAA Tournament, where they will take on the sixth-seeded Hoyas of Georgetown on Friday evening in Chicago.
"Our guys were highly motivated coming into tonight, ready to show the country that we belonged," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "To play at their tempo and still come away with a comfortable victory says a lot about our guys ability to do whatever it takes to win."
The victory was the first NCAA Tournament win since 2007 when some guy named Maynor did something pretty cool against Duke. The Rams could technically claim the "L.A. City Title" with victories over both USC and UCLA this season.
"This is my first postseason in my five years in college basketball and we, as seniors, want to make it something special," senior Jamie Skeen said."We're here to win games, we're not satisfied just being here."
Skeen led all scorers with 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting, while also grabbing nine rebounds on the evening. Junior Bradford Burgess finished with nine points and 10 rebounds, while senior Joey Rodriguez added eight points and five assists in the victory.
"We know that it's a matter of us focusing for 40 minutes on both ends of the court," Rodriguez said. "if we do that, we have the ability to play with anybody in the country."
It was a sluggish start offensively for both squads with the Rams connecting on just two of their first 14 shots, but defensively, VCU locked down and held the Trojans in check, letting them hold a lead of no larger than five throughout the first half.
With USC leading 22-19, freshman Rob Brandenberg corralled an offensive rebound and drilled a three-pointer from the right wing to send the teams into halftime with the score tied at 22-22.
Just 37 seconds into the second stanza, Skeen connected on a three-pointer of his own to give VCU the lead, 25-22. The Black & Gold would never relinquish the lead.
A bevy of second-chance points and six three-pointers helped the Rams roll offensively, growing its lead to 13 on a pair of free-throws by senior Ed Nixon that sealed the win for the Black & Gold.
"I'm so happy for this whole team, but particularly our seniors," Smart said. "They've been through so much during their time at VCU and no matter how many people have doubt them, they always respond. I'm proud to have the opportunity to coach these guys."
The signature of the night was VCU's defensive effort that forced 15 Trojan turnovers and held them to just 39.5% from the field. All-PAC 10 big men Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic were held to just five shot attempts apiece.
"We were really focused on executing our game plan on the defensive end," Burgess said. "It doesn't matter if your shots or falling or not, if you're playing good defensive you're always going to be in games."
It's a quick turnaround for the Black & Gold as they hopped on a charter plane right after the victory and headed to Chicago for a Friday showdown with Georgetown at the United Center. Game time is set for approx. 9 p.m.