RICHMOND, Va. – It's nice to see other cities and be away from school, but there's nothing like being at home. For 19 days, the VCU men's basketball team played the nomadic role, bouncing from city to city.
On Wednesday night, it became obvious that the Rams were happy to finally be back at home. VCU rolled to a 69-46 victory over Big East foe South Florida in front of a school-record sixth straight sellout at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.
"First and foremost, I want to thank the fans. I thought they were terrific yet again," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "I talked to the guys tonight about stopping to think just how fortunate we are to be able to go out and play in front of a packed house on a nightly basis. Our energy tonight was very good and I thought a lot of that had to do with the atmosphere."
Four Rams reached double-figures led by junior sharpshooter Troy Daniels, who came off the bench to pour in 17 points, including five three-pointers. Senior Bradford Burgess reached double-digits for the sixth straight game with 15 points and four rebounds, while junior point guard Darius Theus chipped in 13 points, six assists and no turnovers. Sophomore Rob Brandenberg had a tremendous all-around game with 10 points, three rebounds, three assists, three blocks and three steals.
While the balanced scoring attack certainly helped, it was the second half defense that stole the show. The Rams locked down South Florida for just 18 points and 6-of-23 shooting, including 0-of-6 from long range.
"Our second-half defense has been our Achilles heel several times this year and we really wanted to focus on that tonight," Burgess said. "It all comes down to getting stops and when we keep the intensity up like we did tonight, good things usually happen."
The first half was hotly-contested with six ties and nine lead changes. The largest lead by either team was four and that's the advantage USF had at the 14:21 mark, before back-to-back treys from Daniels and Brandenberg ignited an 8-0 run that gave VCU a four-point cushion, 14-10.
The teams would trade buckets the rest of the stanza as they headed into the halftime break with the score squared up at 28-28.
All we know is that it must have been one heck of a halftime speech from Coach Smart and his staff. After the teams traded free-throws to start the second half, VCU reeled off a 15-2 run capped off by yet another three-pointer from Daniels which gave the Rams a 44-31 lead with 12:21 remaining.
"When Troy shoots the ball, he's just such a good shooter, that it's almost disappointed when it doesn't go in," Smart said. "His teammates and our coaching staff have really tried to emphasize over the last few days how much we believe in him. When he is hitting those shots, it really opens things up for us offensively and of course when the scoreboard is moving in threes, it certainly helps."
USF would cut it to nine, but once again the Black & Gold put together a run, this time it was 13-2 finalized by a three-pointer from Burgess to give VCU a 21-point lead at 58-37.
The lead would remain above 20 for the final five minutes as the Rams capped off their ninth win over a BCS opponent under Coach Smart and his staff. The win was the second time in the past 15 games that VCU toppled a Big EAST opponent by 18 points or more (Georgetown by 18 in NCAA Tournament First Round).
In last year's meeting between these two teams, the Bulls dominated the glass with 19 offensive boards. This time around, VCU won the battle 34-27 and grabbed 14 offensive boards for themselves, thanks in large part to 13 combined rebounds from sophomores Juvonte Reddic and D.J. Haley.
"We knew rebounding would be a big factor tonight and I thought Juvonte and DJ really gave us a physical presence down low tonight. They were big for us," Smart said.
The Rams will now make the short trip up to Washington, D.C. on Sunday afternoon to participate in the BB&T Classic. VCU will battle George Washington in a 2:15 p.m. at the Verizon Center.