HARRISONBURG, Va. – If it seems like you’ve seen this before from Joey Rodriguez, it’s probably because you have.

On Saturday, Rodriguez showed his knack for clutch shooting again when his buried a critical jumper with time winding down to help lift VCU to a 70-66 win over James Madison at the Convocation Center.

With VCU holding a 62-60 lead, Rodriguez took a handoff from senior Ed Nixon, turned and drilled a long two-pointer with 22.4 seconds left. The shot made it a two-possession game, a margin that proved insurmountable for the Dukes.

Rodriguez has shown a penchant for this before. Most notably, the 5-10 senior guard connected on clutch 3-pointer in victories over Old Dominion and Drexel earlier this season. Never short on confidence, Rodriguez is happy to have the ball in his hands with the game on the line.

“That whole last two minutes I wanted to shoot the ball,” Rodriguez said. “This whole year, [I’ve] just wanted to have the ball at the end of the game, just wanting to make big plays. Hopefully, I keep it up.”

On Saturday, Rodriguez was 0-of-5 from the field when he swished that baseline jumper to turn away JMU and give the Rams their 10th win in 11 games.

“It really doesn’t matter if he’s made shots earlier in the game,” said VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart. “Those are the shots he lives for.”

Rodriguez finished with six points, a team-high seven rebounds and five assists.

THE DENZEL BOWLES PROJECT
James Madison center Denzel Bowles’ status as the CAA’s best big man is rarely questioned. He didn’t do much to prove pundits wrong on Saturday with a 22-point, nine-rebound, three-block performance. While those are commendable numbers, VCU’s ability to slow the Dukes’ top threat in the second half was a major factor in the Rams’ victory.

Bowles hurt the Rams in a variety of ways in the first half, scoring in the low post, in transition and with 10 to 15-foot jumpers. The JMU senior hit 7-of-8 shots to start the game. However, he was 3-of-8 from the field the rest of the way and had eight points, a reasonable sum, in the second half.

Despite Bowles hot start, Smart didn’t make any major adjustments in the locker room.

“We just said that we needed to be better,” Smart said. “I thought we made some mistakes in some coverages in what they do. Bowles got a layup off a ball screen and roll that we should’ve covered up. We gave a couple up on the back end of the press in the first half. So, we cleaned that stuff up and we really dedicated ourselves to half court defense. We knew today was going to be one of those games and that’s what allowed us to win the game.”

Bowles is particularly dangerous when he gets the ball down low, where he’s able to use his 6-foot-11 frame and touch to score with impressive efficiency. So, the best way of stopping Bowles is to not have to stop him at all.

“You’ve got to do your work early on Bowles,” Smart said. “You can’t allow him to get the ball where he wants it. I thought our guys did a nice job taking away the high-low pass. They ran a variety of plays to get to high-low situations and Bowles is a load in there.  Our guys did a nice job of taking that away. ”

DEEP THOUGHTS (BY JACK HANDEY)

  • I felt like this is precisely the type of game that the Rams would’ve lost last year. In a lot of ways, it seems like further proof of this team’s maturation.
  • Ed Nixon has been quietly outstanding since Brandon Rozzell’s injury. Although Rozzell did play today, I’m going to include today’s game in this. Since Rozzell broke his hand prior to the William & Mary game on Jan. 12, Nixon has averaged 10.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game, while also playing outstanding defense most nights. Nixon contributed nine points, seven rebounds and four assists. Also, between you and me, he should’ve been credited with a steal and a really, really obvious block that somehow didn’t make the books. He’s really been the Rams’ unsung hero this season.
  • Jamie Skeen is 9-of-19 from 3-point range in his last eight games, including two huge ones on Saturday. That’s your starting five-man, Rams’ fans.
  • The Rams did a really good job of capitalizing on the speed, or lack thereof, of James Madison’s post players, Bowles and Rayshawn Goins. On at least three occasions, Rodriguez threw long outlet passes to freshman Juvonte Reddic for easy offensive opportunities.

    TOP QUOTES

  • “He’s used to doing that and he’s got really, really, a lot of guts. He’s a guy who you want to step up and take that shot because he’s a guy that knows he can make it.” — Shaka Smart on Joey Rodriguez’ baseline jumper with 22.4 seconds left.
  • “I’m not going to be hesitant at all. I’m going to go at him. Everybody else is probably scared of him, but I’m not. I don’t care, I’m going at him.” — Jamie Skeen on playing against Denzel Bowles.
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