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There was nothing but garbage time left when Bradford Burgess pounded his hand on the ground in frustration. Richmond forward Derrick Williams had just rejected his bid for a layup and the ball went off of Burgess’ hands out of bounds.
VCU (6-3) held an 18-point lead, but Burgess’ frustration was symbolic of the relentless attack the Rams poured on in a 73-51 win over the crosstown rival Spiders (6-3).
“We were aggressive from start to finish,” Burgess said. “The term we used today was being relentless for 40 minutes.”
And for 37 of those 40 minutes, Burgess was on the floor. He had only one field goal, but finished with 14 points and nine rebounds, getting to the free throw line seven times. It was indicative of Burgess’ will to beat a team that handed VCU a punishing a year ago.
“If that’s what it takes to help the team win, I’m all for it,” he said.
After the Rams defeated George Washington Sunday at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., VCU head coach Shaka Smart and his staff wasted no time showing their team footage of last year’s taxing loss to Richmond. They showed when the Spiders held a 30-point lead. He even showed their inner-city rivals’ reactions after the game, the whole nine yards.
“We just had that in our minds all week,” Burgess said. “And we just took it out on them.”
It was a game of runs from both teams that helped keep the first half even at a steady pace before VCU tore off a 12-0 run to help end the half with an eight-point lead. But for the remainder of the game, two players that were nearly stagnant in the first half would write the script in the second. Richmond’s leading scorer Kendall Anthony only had two points in the first half, but ripped off eight quick points to cut the Rams’ lead to two with 11 minutes remaining.
Enter VCU sophomore guard Rob Brandenberg, who walked into the locker room at halftime 0-for-4 from the field. He came out of the half on fire, and at times seemingly walking into the lane for layups. Tack on two three-pointers with under five minutes remaining in the game and Brandenberg had finished with 14 points and led VCU to a walk-away victory over Richmond.
“Even though I didn’t score in the first half, I still wanted to make sure I played great defense and help the team win,” Brandenberg said. “In the second half I got in a little groove.”
Brandenberg, along with guards Briante Weber and Teddy Okereafor were forced to step up in place of a foul-troubled Darius Theus, who was on the court for all of 15 minutes Friday night. It was the second straight game the Rams were forced to operate without their starting point guard for much of the game, and once again they were up to the test.
“Those guys are getting better and we’re much more comfortable with Darius off the floor,” Smart said. “I think when the season started our first couple games it was like panic mode if Darius wasn’t out there and he was playing 37, 38 minutes.
“Tonight against a good team he played 15 minutes and we won by 22, so I think that’s a testament to the progress that our other guards are making.”
But as it’s been all season, VCU’s defense was the difference. The Rams held Richmond to its worst shooting performance of the season (36.2 percent) and forced 17 turnovers.
“It’s VCU, you can’t dictate where you’re going to throw the ball,” Spiders head coach Chris Mooney said. “They’re going to kind of pressure you until they find a weak spot.”
At the end of the day, it was just another team frazzled and confused by the systematic approach of VCU’s Havoc style of play. In the long scheme of things, it was just another game. But it was the last Burgess would face his cross-city rival. The hometown boy stood at center court with a smile on his face and the Black & Blue trophy held above his head one final time.
“It’s great for our program, Richmond is a great program, they have a great team,” Burgess said. “It’s great to win any game so we look at it as just another win.”