Sunday, March 20, 2011
Rapid Reaction: VCU 94, Purdue 76
By Eamonn Brennan
CHICAGO -- VCU's weekend has no precedent.
That is not an exaggeration, either. The Rams were one of the first two teams to emerge from the NCAA tournament's new First Four format. While fellow Dayton winners Clemson bowed out in the first round versus West Virginia, the Rams were busy putting together the two most impressive wins of any double-digit seed in this NCAA tournament. First came No. 6 Georgetown. Next was No. 3 Purdue. Both wins came over skilled, veteran clubs, teams with player of the year candidates and annual designs on national titles.
And VCU -- one of the last two at-large teams in the tournament -- didn't just win. They dominated.
Sunday's was another peerless victory, a 94-76 win that mirrored the Rams' thrashing of the Hoyas. After a rally late in the first half, Shaka Smart's team buried their opponents in the second, and it was never close again.
Turning point: The turning point came late in the first half, when VCU held the ice-cold Boilermakers scoreless for four of the final six minutes. In that span, VCU scored 13 straight points, and suddenly, at 36-24, the Rams were just where they like to be: in charge.
Key player: This win was so thorough and commanding that you could probably call every Ram the player of the game, but point guard Joey Rodriguez deserves highlight for his commanding quickness and intelligence in the open floor. Rodriguez facilitated the majority of VCU's easy buckets in the second half -- and there were lots of those. When Purdue switched to a desperate full-court press late, Rodriguez's speed made breaking that press a cakewalk.
Key stat: Purdue needed a rally at the beginning of the second half. They needed to tighten up on defense and work for better shots on offense. Instead, they allowed VCU to score six straight dunks or layups, most of them uncontested. These shots didn't come at the end of press break scenarios, either. They came in the half court. It was a thoroughly shocking display from one of the nation's best defensive teams.
Miscellaneous: With 7:42 left in the second half, the Boilers were fighting to turn a minute or so of momentum into a last-ditch comeback. As Brandon Rozzell missed a 3-pointer -- just the thing Purdue needed -- guard Terone Johnson was whistled for a questionable loose-ball foul under the rim. Bradford Burgess made two free throws, and VCU's lead was back to 15. ... VCU's fans have been representing the Colonial Athletic Association all weekend long, and their "CAA! CAA!" chant in the game's closing moments was no different.
What's next: VCU will move on to San Antonio, where it will await the winner of Notre Dame-Florida State, Sunday's round of 32 nightcap. The Boilermakers, meanwhile, will wave farewell to E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, two of the best players in school history, and two who -- thanks to Robbie Hummel's back-to-back ACL tears -- were robbed of a chance to make a national championship in two straight seasons. Boilers fans won't forget either player anytime soon.