Senior guard Jamal Shuler scored 15 points, grabbed four rebounds and made two steals in the 37 minutes of his final appearance at the Siegel Center
It was senior night at the Siegel Center on Wednesday night. That put an added pressure on the three seniors who started the game, as well as the coaches and the rest of the team. Nobody wants to lose on senior night, the last home game for the seniors.
After a rather uneven first half performance VCU played a splendid second 20 minutes at both ends of the floor to defeat UNC-Wilmington: VCU 72, UNC-W 58.
Of what was wrong with the Rams in the first half, which featured some ill-advised lobs and other ball-handling miscues, VCU head coach Anthony Grant spoke of the pressure of senior night: "Sometimes that enthusiasm, that zest, can get the best of you."
Then a happy and relaxed Grant praised his team's smothering defensive play in the second half. Grant was also quite pleased his team out-rebounded its bigger opponent by a 39-33 margin.
VCU seniors, forwards Wil Fameni and Michael Anderson, and guard Jamal Shuler combined for 80 minutes of play; together, their stats were 31 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
Junior guard Eric Maynor scored 16 points and freshman guard Joey Rodriguez added 12. Freshman forward Lance Kearse looked good in his 13 minutes on the floor, scoring seven points and getting four rebounds.
UNC-W head coach Benny Moss was impressed with the 94 feet of pressure VCU applied, and the play of Maynor, in particular. "[He is] the best player in the conference." Moss had to mention the shot-blocking sensation freshman Larry Sanders has become for the Rams, "...they've got an eraser at the bucket."
UNC-Wilmington (18-12, 11-6 in CAA) was led by its star guard T.J. Carter, who scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
As the Rams pulled away in the second half the Seahawks started banging a little harder, which created some friction, but Grant's team wasn't intimidated. That's a good sign, because at times during the season the Rams have not responded well to rough tactics.
And, strangely, after the game the players took turns climbing a ladder and cutting down the net, which marked the first time anyone in the media room could remember seeing a net being cut down on any occasion other than following a tournament win.
Asked about the net-cutting ceremony, Grant said he wanted the team, especially the freshmen to "Get a taste of [winning a championship] ... and remember that."
With its win VCU (22-6, 14-3 in CAA) clinched a first-place finish in the regular season CAA standings. So the Rams will be the first seed in the conference's post season tournament at the Richmond Coliseum, Mar. 7-10. The top four teams in the league's final standings (see below) will receive byes in the tournament's first round.
Next up for VCU is its last game on the regular season schedule, a 7 p.m tilt at William & Mary (14-14, 10-7 in CAA).
Team, CAA record, overall record
VCU 14-3, 22-6
Mason 12-5, 20-9
UNC-W 11-6, 18-12
ODU 11-6, 17-13
W&M 10-7, 14-14
Delaware 9-8, 13-15
Northeastern 8-9, 12-16
Hofstra 7-10, 11-17
Towson 6-11, 11-17
Drexel 5-12, 12-18
Georgia St. 5-12, 9-19
JMU 4-13, 12-16
-- Words and photo by F.T. Rea