WILMINGTON, N.C. – Entering this season, there were only eight teams in the country with the chance to reach six straight seasons of 24 wins or more. As of Wednesday night, there was only one that had accomplished that feat already, the VCU Rams.
The Rams' 24th victory came in an exciting 63-59 road win at UNCW on Wednesday night in a loud and raucous Trask Coliseum. Sophomore Rob Brandenberg scored a season-high 21 points to lead the Black & Gold offensively.
"It was an exciting game and I certainly credit UNC Wilmington for really playing hard and challenging us for 40 minutes," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "I'm proud of our guys for hanging tough and making just enough plays to come up with the win in a tough environment."
The Seahawks made it tough into the final minute for the Rams as Keith Rendleman connected on an old-fashioned three-point play to bring UNCW within one, 60-59, with 59 seconds to play. Junior Darius Theus connected on one of two free-throws to push the lead to two and give UNCW a chance to tie.
Instead, like he has all year, Theus made another huge play by tabbing the inbounds pass to Brandenberg, who was fouled and ultimately sealed the game with two free-throws.
"I saw an opportunity to make the play and I was just trying to do whatever it took to help my team get the win," Theus said.
Brandenberg finished with 21 points on 6-of-12 from the field, including 3-of-6 from long range. He also grabbed six rebounds, dished out two assists and picked up two steals. Sophomore Juvonte Reddic was the other Ram in double-figures with 14 points and nine rebounds on the evening.
"The basket seemed wide open to me tonight," Brandenberg said. "It was just one of those nights that I felt good about every shot I took. I just have to get better at bringing that approach every time I step on the court."
UNCW came out of the gates with a spirited effort on the heels of their senior night celebration and would challenge the Rams from the tip. VCU would hold a two-point lead on several early occasions, but the Rendleman and the Seahawks would grab a lead and push it to as much as six on a fastbreak layup by Adam Smith with 8:23 to play in the first half.
The Seahawks would cling to a four-point lead heading into the final two minutes, but back-to-back steals led to back-to-back fastbreak layups for Theus to even the score with just over a minute left before halftime. However, Tanner Milson would send UNCW into the break with a 31-28 advantage when he hit a hail mary three at the end of the shot clock.
VCU would come out of the locker room with a purpose, scoring six straight points and quickly taking a 34-31 lead. The Seahawks hung around until the Rams ran off a 15-6 run capped off by a fastbreak layup from freshman Briante Weber which gave VCU its largest lead of the night, 59-49.
Rendleman wouldn't let UNCW die, scoring seven points in the final two minutes to get within one and set up Theus' final minute heroics.
"There's a lot we can take away from this game, a lot we have to improve if we want to accomplish the goals we have set," Brandenberg said.
With the victory, senior Bradford Burgess moved into a five-way tie for the most career wins with 103. He ties Joey Rodriguez, Brandon Rozzell, Ed Nixon and T.J. Gwynn.
"We're looking forward to a big game on Saturday and a chance to honor Brad pregame for all he has done for this program," Smart said.
VCU wrap up its regular season on Saturday evening when it hosts George Mason at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. Game time on ESPN2 is set for 6 p.m.