RICHMOND, Va. – The New York Yankees have Mariano Rivera to close games. The VCU men's basketball team has Darius Theus.
Theus had seven points and three assists in the final five minutes to help the Rams furiously close out their Sears Bracketbuster matchup against Northern Iowa for a decisive 77-68 victory. VCU turned a two-point game into a nine-point win by holding the Panthers to just three field goals and forcing four turnovers in the final five minutes.
"It certainly was a fun game to watch, coach in and I'm sure our players had fun playing in that game," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "We thought coming into the game that if we were able to enforce our style of play on them, they would eventually wear down and I think we were able to do that tonight."
In front of the 17th consecutive sellout at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center, the Rams unleashed their HAVOC defensive style by forcing Northern Iowa into a season-high 19 turnovers. UNI entered the evening ranked 12th in the country for fewest turnovers per game.
"That's what we want to do every night," Theus said. "We want to pressure the ball and make the other team uncomfortable. We're doing a good job of that, but we can't be satisified, we have to keep improving every time we step on the floor."
Four different Rams finished in double-figures with senior Bradford Burgess leading the way with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting. He also added three assists and two rebounds on the evening. Sophomore Juvonte Reddic notched his fifth double-double of the year with 15 points, 11 rebounds and three steals. Rob Brandenberg and Troy Daniels were the other two players in double-figures with 13 and 12 points, respectively.
"I thought we did a good job of getting in rhythm and it certainly helps when we're watching our teammates making shots," Burgess said. "When we're sharing the ball like we did tonight, a lot of different guys are going to be able to score the ball."
Offense was the star of the show in the first half, particularly the three-point shooting as the teams combined for 13 treys in the first 20 minutes. UNI hit five of them in the first eight minutes to take a 20-16 advantage, but the Rams responded with a 12-0 run capped off by a three-pointer from Brandenberg to give VCU a 28-20 lead with 9:31 left in the first half.
The Panthers would chip away at the lead and eventually take a 44-42 lead into halftime when Anthony James hit a jumper as the first half clock expired.
The teams traded baskets through the first ten minutes of the second half before the Rams opened up a six point lead after Burgess sank two free-throws with 7:46 left in regulation. UNI got within two, but Theus would score his only three field-goals of the game over the next three minutes to push the lead to seven and secure the 12th home victory of the year for the Black & Gold.
"I'm just trying to do whatever it takes to help my team win," Theus said. "I know that I'm looked on as a leader on this team and that's all I'm trying to do. Whatever I need to do, I'm going to do."
With VCU's 12 steals on the night, the Rams reached 300 steals for the third consecutive season. They are the only three seasons in school history that the Black & Gold reached that plateau.
The Rams now return to CAA action next week when they travel to UNCW for a 7 p.m. showdown at Trask Coliseum.