BOWLING GREEN, KY. – Away from the comforts of home is where good teams become great teams.
On Wednesday night, the VCU men's basketball took another step toward the latter part of that statement, using a stifling defensive effort en route to a dominant 68-45 road win over Western Kentucky. It was the second time in the past four days that the teams played each other with the Rams taking home victories in both contests.
"I'm proud of the defensive effort our guys gave tonight, particularly in the second half," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "We had struggled the past four games with our second half defense, it was an area that we were really focused on and I thought we did a good job of that tonight. It was good to see this team take another step forward."
Senior Bradford Burgess (pictured, left) led four Rams in double-figures with 16 points on 5-of-12 shooting, while also grabbing five rebounds. Freshman Briante Weber (pictured, main) tallied a career-high with 13 points on 5-of-6 from the field. Weber also chipped in five rebounds, four steals and an assist. Junior Darius Theus and sophomore Rob Brandenberg were the other two players in double-figures with 12 points apiece.
"I thought our depth really played a factor tonight," Smart added. "We had a lot of guys give us solid contributions throughout the night. That's really going to help us as we continue to move forward."
However, it was VCU's defensive effort was the story. The Black & Gold held the Hilltoppers to just 18 second-half points, only four over the last 12:47 of the contest. Over that final 12:47, WKU was held to 1-of-8 from the field and coughed the ball up nine times. For the game, VCU forced 22 Hilltopper turnovers, which led to 28 points for the Black & Gold.
The 45 points is the lowest scored by a VCU opponent since Feb. 28, 2009 when Georgia State was held to 41. Under Coach Smart, the Rams are now 36-2 when the opposition is held to 65 points or less.
"As a team, we know that it all starts on the defensive end," Theus said. "No matter what is happening on the offensive end, we know we have to continue to get stops and we did a great job of that."
After the two teams traded runs to start the contest, solid frontcourt play by sophomore D.J. Haley capped off a six point swing to give VCU a 24-18 advantage with 6:31 remaining in the first half.
WKU would even the score at 24, but a three-pointer from Burgess and free-throws by Theus sent the Black & Gold into halftime with a 31-27 cushion.
"At halftime, we really talked about locking in and putting together two good defensive halves. We knew the shots would start falling if we just kept our focus on shutting them down," Theus said.
That's exactly what happened as VCU ran off a 12-6 run to start the second half, giving the Rams their first double-digit lead of the game at 43-33.
WKU wouldn't go away with T.J. Price drilling a three-pointer to top off an 8-0 run to bring the Hilltoppers within two at 43-41 with 12:47 left to play.
Enter lockdown mode. Over the final 12:47 of the contest, VCU ran off a 25-4 run in which six different players scored, led by Weber, who scored eight points over the stretch. The Hilltoppers had just two field-goals over the final 15 minutes of the contest.
The Black & Gold blistered the nets to the tune of 64 percent from the field in the second half and 50 percent for the game. VCU won the rebounding battle for third time in five games, 33-28 with 11 different players registering a rebound in the contest.
VCU will wrap up its five-game road trip on Sunday evening when it heads to Tuscloosa, Ala. to take on former Head Coach Anthony Grant and the 13th-ranked Crimson Tide. Game time on ESPNU is set for 9:30 p.m. EST.