VCU pulls third stunner


CHICAGO -- Oh yeah, VCU belongs in the NCAA Tournament. The real question now: Who can stop the Rams?

Fresh, fast, furious and at times flawless, Virginia Commonwealth didn't look like a team playing its third game in five nights. The Rams pressured Purdue, broke through for numerous layups, and overwhelmed the third-seeded Boilermakers 94-76 on Sunday to earn their first trip to the round of 16.

As their fans chanted "VCU, VCU," players hugged and celebrated on the floor of the United Center. What a trip -- what a week -- it was. Now it's on to San Antonio for the 11th-seeded Rams (26-11) to play 10th-seeded Florida State on Friday in the Southwest region semifinals.

Sunday's game came only a week after VCU received an at-large bid to the disbelief of some critics. Shuttled off to Dayton for a "First Four" game, the Rams beat Southern Cal on Wednesday, got into Chicago in the wee hours Thursday, routed Georgetown on Friday and then did the same to Purdue.

"A week ago, we thought we were done," said relentless point guard Joey Rodriguez, who had 12 points, 11 assists and no turnovers in 34 minutes.

"And now, we're here in the Sweet 16. Anything can happen now."

Rams forward Jamie Skeen, who had 13 points, said, "It's VCU against the world. Nobody else thought we could do this. Nobody else's bracket said that we're going to make it to the Sweet 16. Honestly, if it was me and I was just a regular person, I wouldn't put VCU in the Sweet 16. Who would have thought?"

Purdue coach Matt Painter, whose Boilermakers (26-8) were denied a third straight trip to the round of 16, said the Rams indeed belong.

"I made that statement -- VCU can beat any team in the country on a neutral court," Painter said. "And I believe that. ... I was hoping that team wouldn't show up, but that team from VCU did show up."

Bradford Burgess scored 23 points to lead a balanced offense, and the Rams' depth wore down the Boilermakers in the second half.

"I feel like all teams are equal. It's not just about the conference and how big the conference is and all that other stuff," Skeen said.

"We're all just as good. It's just basketball, man. I know you have your All-Americans, like you had two All-Americans out there, but it's a team game. If you jell as a team like we did today, you can beat anybody."

VCU finished with 26 assists to only four turnovers. The Rams didn't hesitate to pop up 3-pointers, making 8 of 21, but they also took it inside against Big Ten Player of the Year JaJuan Johnson, challenging the 6-foot-10-inch center.

"We made him work for everything he got," said VCU coach Shaka Smart, noting that Johnson appeared to tire a bit.

Johnson finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds in the final game of a stellar career.

"Honestly it was just one of those nights. Basic principles that we didn't execute on and that's all on us, taking nothing away from VCU," Johnson said.

But VCU really stopped the Boilermakers' other star, E'Twaun Moore, holding him to 10 points on 5-for-15 shooting. That's eight points below his average. Ryne Smith had 20 for Purdue, making 6 of 8 3-point attempts.

 

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