ROZZELL CATCHES FIRE, JAMS GEORGE MASON
By Chris Kowalczyk
There was nothing separating Brandon Rozzell from the basket late in VCU’s quarterfinal win over George Mason. The Rams were leading comfortably, and now it was showtime. He was going to throw down a monster dunk to put the exclamation point on VCU’s convincing victory. It was a good plan, until he missed the dunk.
“I was just excited,” Rozzell said. “I think I heard Joey [Rodriguez] screaming and I started smiling.”
“The funny thing is that Brandon’s probably our best jumper,” VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart said. “He dunks in practice all the time, before practice, after practice, during practice and he can do any type of dunk that you need him to do. But that was just a run of the mill dunk.”
All is forgiven. That dunk was about the only thing Rozzell did wrong in the second half of Saturday’s 75-60 win that sent the Rams into the CAA Semifinals, where they’ll meet Old Dominion Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Richmond Coliseum. Rozzell scored all 14 of his points in the second half, including four 3-pointers to break open a close game.
You couldn’t really tell by the final score, but for about 34 minutes the contest was a barn burner. With the score tied at 48-48 with 11:21 remaining, Rozzell began his assault with a 3-pointer. A short time later, with the score knotted for the final time at 53-53, Rozzell knocked the ball off of a George Mason player for a turnover. On the ensuing VCU possession, he buried a 3-pointer from the corner. The Rams never trailed again.
Rozzell bombed 3-pointers on two out of VCU’s next three possessions to push the Rams’ lead to 59-53 with 5:31 left and effectively cut out the legs of the Patriots. VCU would march to victory on the strength of a 24-7 blitz the final 6:49. Nine of those 24 points came from Rozzell’s hot hand.
“Phenomenal. If you would ask me one word to describe him I would say that,” Smart said. “He was terrific. He had 14 points in the game, but it seemed like he had 30. Every shot was huge. Every shot was when we needed it the most. He took the shots at the exact right time.”
Before Rozzell started raining triples, the Rams’ offense consisted of the two-man band of Joey Rodriguez and Larry Sanders. VCU needed another scorer if they wanted to separate from George Mason. That’s when the Rams turned to Rozzell.
“I think my teammates, my coaching staff, they’re highly confident in me, they stand by me no matter what the situation is,” Rozzell said. “I didn’t score in the first half and I came into the second half and hit the first shot they automatically told me to look for the next one. When you’re open, shoot the ball.
Rozzell is 6-2 guard with an NBA Jams-like quality. When he knocks down one shot, he starts getting his legs. Two shots and he’s heating up. Three and he’s on fire. No other Ram is as streaky or emotionally tied to the game as the VCU junior.
“I just love the atmosphere. I love big games. It’s just something to feed off of,” Rozzell said. “We come in here with all our VCU fans, the Black and Gold, the chants, everything, it’s just a great atmosphere. I just feed off that.”
Saturday’s outstanding performance was a welcome return to prominence for Rozzell, who lost his starting job to Ed Nixon three weeks ago. At that point, Rozzell was mired in a brutal slump that saw him shoot 3-of-21 over a four-game span. But the Richmond native has taken the assignment in stride, averaging nearly 10 points and shooting 48 percent from beyond the 3-point arc in the six games since.
“Of course it’s a mental change. It’s all about adjusting,” Rozzell said. “Ed Nixon’s the starter. I feel like, he could be anywhere, he would be starting. I don’t mind playing behind him and he doesn’t mind playing behind me. It’s just the situation that happened. I had to learn from it and do the best I can and do what it takes for my team to win.”
Against George Mason, however, the Rams are lucky that they did not need Rozzell to dunk to win.
“Coach told me I can’t miss another one like that,” he said as the room erupted with laughter.
If he keeps playing the way he did Saturday, it won’t matter.
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