February 20, 2010
RAMS LOCK DOWN ON ‘D’, RUN PAST AKRON, 70-53 IN BRACKETBUSTER SHOWDOWN
RICHMOND, Va. – Mr. Miyagi spent hours with Daniel Larusso, training him to become the best karate fighter possible.
Saturday afternoon at the Verizon Wireless Arena, it was like Larusso taking on Miyagi himself as Head Coach Shaka Smart of the Virginia Commonwealth University men’s basketball faced off against one of his mentors and closest friends Keith Dambrot and the University of Akron Zips.
The student came out the victor as Smart’s Rams locked down on defense and used a balanced offensive attack to run by Akron, 70-53, in the ESPNU BracketBusters showdown for both teams.
“I really hate playing against Keith,” Smart said. “I value personal relationships so much and when you have to try and beat one of your closest friends, along with several kids that you recruited, it’s tough. My staff did a great job of keeping me focused on the game and our kids once again were excellent on the defensive end.”
Junior Larry Sanders (Fort Pierce, Fla.) led all scorers with 15 points in just 20 minutes due to foul trouble. Classmate Brandon Rozzell (Richmond, Va.) (left) was outstanding in the second half and finished with 13 points on 5-of-8.
“It’s always good to have a bunch of guys contributing,” Smart said. “Larry had some foul trouble tonight and Joey was hampered by an injury, so it was great to have a bunch of other guys step up and lead the way.”
Zeke Marshall started the game off with an inside jumper, but it was all VCU after that as a three-pointer from freshman Darius Theus (Portsmouth, Va.) (top) capped off a 16-6 run, to give the Black & Gold an early eight-point advantage.
The VCU defense would then take center stage, holding Akron to just 10-of-34 (29.4%) from the field in the first half, including 1-of-8 from beyond the arc. Behind 18 combined points from Sanders and Theus, the Rams would take a 34-22 lead into the locker room.
Dambrot would fire up his Zips, who unleashed a 10-0 run to start the second half behind two three-pointers from Steve McNees, to get within two at 34-32 with 16:37 to play.
That’s when Rozzell would step up with a drive to the hole and then 42 seconds later, a steal and a transition three-pointer to cap a 7-0 run to push the lead back to nine points at 41-32.
Junior Jamie Skeen (Charlotte, N.C.) and the lock down ‘D’ would make sure the lead would get no lower than four. Skeen scored nine points in the final eight minutes and the Zips were held to four field goals over the final ten minutes as the Black & Gold locked up their ninth non-conference win of the season.
“I really thought today was one of our better defensive performances,” Smart said. “We did a great job interrupting their rhythm, which ultimately forced them into an off-shooting night.”
In addition to his game-high 15 points, Sanders grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots. Theus finished with a career-high tying 10 points. Skeen finished with 11 points and four rebounds, while junior Ed Nixon (St. Petersburg, Fla.) (right) chipped in 10 points and five rebounds.
Sophomore Bradford Burgess (Midlothian, Va.) was all over the place once again, finishing with eight points and eight rebounds.
“With Larry’s foul trouble we had to use Brad a lot more than we usually do at the four position and he did a great job with it tonight. He was huge for us.” Smart added.
No Zips finished in double figures, but McNees and Anthony Hitchens led the way with nine points. Jimmy Conyers finished with six points, nine rebounds, three steals and two assists.
In the victory, senior T.J. Gwynn (Burlington, N.C.) tied Ram great Eric Maynor as the winningest player in school history with 95 wins.
The Rams now return to conference action when they look for revenge against the Dukes of James Madison on Wednesday night in a 7:30 p.m. showdown.