NORFOLK, Va. –As good as Bradford Burgess was Saturday – and he was very good – he couldn’t do it alone. So the Rams ordered in some home cooking, calling on a couple of Tidewater area products in the clutch, to earn physical, 68-64 victory over Old Dominion Saturday at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.
Portsmouth native Darius Theus spent a critical five-minute chunk of the second half on the VCU bench, hoping for a chance to make a difference. When he finally got into the game, he did not disappoint.
Theus picked up his fourth foul with 8:19 remaining. At the time, the Rams (22-5, 13-2 CAA) were clinging to a 47-42 advantage. Without its junior point guard, the lead crumbled, and when Theus returned with 2:56 left, the game was tied.
But moments later, Theus, a 28 percent 3-point shooter who had missed two earlier in the game, buried a three with two seconds left on the shot clock and 2:02 showing on the game clock to give the Rams a 57-55 lead.
Then, with the score tied at 61, he was the recipient of a Juvonte Reddic steal, driving to the rim to convert a traditional three-point play to put VCU ahead for good with 30.6 left. Theus also provided the assist on Burgess 3-pointer that tied the game at 61-61 with less than a minute remaining. He also added a pair of free throws with 17 seconds left, giving him eight points during the decisive two-minute flurry.
“It feels good to come back home and make big plays like that,” Theus, who finished with 14 points, said.
Watching from the bench while the Rams were faltering, Theus actively campaigned to Coach Shaka Smart to insert him into the game.
“It was hurting me so bad,” Theus said. “Being the point guard you want to be out there help your team. Me and coach were going back and forth, ‘Coach, let me get in, I’m ready.’”
“I got mad at him on the bench,” Smart said. Sometimes he looks at me and makes a face, I know exactly what he means, and I yelled at him. I said, ‘D, I can’t put you in. I need you at the end. Remember Alabama?”
On Nov. 27, VCU trailed a ranked Alabama team by one on the road when Theus fouled out with 3:31 remaining. The Rams made one field goal the rest of the way and lost by eight. On Saturday, Smart waited as long as he could before turning Theus loose, a strategy that paid off in spades.
It was a sweet victory for Theus, who also had a number of well-wishers in attendance and even sought advice from close friend and former ODU standout Ben Finney in the week leading up to the game.
“Not everybody can drive up to Richmond to see us play,” he said. “Just to see some of my aunts, uncles, cousins in the stands for the first time seeing me play or who really haven’t seen me play basketball maybe since high school, it’s just a blessing for them to be here, and for me to have a performance like that, it’s just a blessing.”
A year ago, Chesapeake native Briante Weber sat in the Old Dominion student section during VCU’s visit to Norfolk. Proudly displaying a gold VCU t-shirt, he took some verbal abuse, but was able to celebrate a Rams’ victory.
On Saturday, he was staring into the teeth of that same ODU student section with 6.1 seconds remaining, took all the abuse the fans could dish out, and hit a pair of free throws to ice the Rams’ win in front of friends and family.
“I missed one earlier, so I had to clear my mind because it was getting real loud,” Weber, who had 10 family members, as well as a number of other friends, in attendance. “When the first one went in, I knew the second one was going to be money.”
Teammates said Weber, who attended Great Bridge High School, had been eyeing this game since VCU’s win over Towson a few days ago, when he could fully fixate himself on beating his hometown Monarchs, so much so, the Rams’ freshman noted it was VCU’s first regular season sweep of ODU since 2004.
“That was in the back of my mind,” Weber, who finished with five points and three assists, said. “[I was thinking] we can make it happen.”