Those same “basketball experts” had to be equally as shocked when the Rams had little difficulty dispatching their first round opponent, a 19-14 Southern California squad who somehow slipped into the tournament without the same controversy that accompanied VCU’s inclusion.
The black-and-gold struggled shooting early, but played their best defensive game of the season in holding USC to just 46 points in the 13-point win.
Jamie Skeen found himself in foul trouble as a whistle-happy officiating crew tried to keep the game as a USC-like pace, but still managed to lead the Rams with 16 points on the night, and grabbed 9 rebounds against a very large USC interior.
Skeen’s usual partner in crime, Bradford Burgess, was held to single digits (9-points) for the first time in five games, but lead the Rams with 10 rebounds on the night, half of which were of the offensive variety.
The teams headed into the half tied at 22, but VCU was able to find their stroke in the second stanza, scoring 37 points as seniors Joey Rodriguez, Brandon Rozzell, and Ed Nixon Â were able to connect on several long range shots.
Freshmen Rob Brandenberg, Juvonte Reddic, and DJ Haley contributed valuable minutes in their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance.
Haley notched yet another start in his young career, helping lock down on star Nikola Vucevic, and the Rams got 13 combined points off the bench from Reddic and Brandenberg.
The win is the first NCAA tournament victory of coach Shaka Smart’s career, and punched the Rams a ticket to Chicago to face 6th-seeded Georgetown tonight in a late 9:50 tip.