VCU can be really good when Brad Burgess plays like a leader

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WASHINGTON – VCU is no longer a secret.

Like it or not, this team is going to have a target on their back all season long. Every stop they make on the road, the Rams are going to attract a larger media horde. And after every game, they are going to be asked questions about last season’s run to the Final Four and how it affected some random aspect of that evening’s game.

“Everyone wants to talk about last year,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said after the Rams beat George Washington 75-60 in the opener of the BB&T Classic. “We get lots of questions from the media, even now on Dec. 4th, about last year. We’re going to be polite, we’re going to answer questions, but at the same time in our mind, last year’s over. And its not going to win us any games this year.”

VCU learned that the hard way early in the season, as they last to both Seton Hall and Georgia Tech by double figures while struggling to beat Western Kentucky and St. Francis (PA).

But the last four games have been a different story. VCU smacked WKU — in one of the stranger scheduling quirks of the year, VCU played WKU in the 7th place game at the Charleston Classic three days before they played them in Bowling Green — and gave Alabama everything they could handle before winning the last two games by an average of 19 points.

The difference is easy to spot.

In the Rams’ first four games, senior forward Brad Burgess averaged 10.0 ppg while shooting 25.6 percent (10-39) from the field and 29.4 percent (5-17) from beyond the arc. In the last four, he’s looked like the guy that many, including myself, thought had the ability to be the CAA’s Player of the Year. Burgess has averaged 18.3 ppg over that stretch, hitting 45.1 percent (23-51) from the floor and 43.3 percent (13-30) from deep.

And against GW, Burgess had easily his best game of the season. He finished with 24 points and five boards, knocking down 8-15 from the floor and 4-8 from three while also tallying two steals, a block and not a single turnover. Burgess was hot early, helping VCU build a lead that grew to 13 in the first half, and hit a number of big jumpers down the stretch when GW made their run.

“The difference was Brad. He played like a senior, he played like a leader. He allowed us to keep the lead at the end,” Smart said. “It was great to see Brad start to hit shots. We want him shooting the ball a lot. I think our guys are learning more and more to look for him.”

What makes Burgess so dangerous in the VCU offense is that he has the skills of a guard, but the size, strength and toughness to hold his own in the paint. That allows Smart to use Burgess at the power forward spot, where his perimeter skills and shooting ability creates mismatches on the offensive end of the floor. The Rams are an uptempo team that love to press defensively and spread the court offensively, looking to create space to penetrate and open looks from beyond the arc, a system that fits Burgess’ skill-set perfectly.

“Honestly, I consider him a guard, but he is 6-6 and he’s big and strong so it allows us to play him at the four spot and it allows us to create mismatches for the other team,” Smart said. “Hopefully, its not too big of a mismatch for us at the other end. It allows us to have another ball-handler out there, a really good shooter. On some of our ball-screen stuff, it allows us to throw it back to him and he gets wide open shots.”

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VCU’s struggles in their first four games caused some people to write this group off. That’s what happens when you lose four starters — including stars Joey Rodriguez and Jamie Skeen — from a team that finished fourth in the Colonial during the regular season. Instead of playing a role this season, Burgess is being asked to be the star, to be the face of the program. The Rams need him to be the guy that is not only going to be counted on to hit the big shot but to be the guy that picks up one of his young teammates when they are having an off-night.

Smart is counting on Burgess to not only be the leading scorer and the star, but to be this team’s inspirational leader.

“Brad has always been someone that leads by example,” Smart said, “but he’s learned this year that he’s someone we need to step up and talk more. And he’s done that. Games like today, he’s really been our vocal leader. We wouldn’t have won the game without him.”

VCU is a very young team. Burgess is the only senior on the roster. Only two juniors — Troy Daniels and Darius Theus — are in the rotation. Everyone else is either a freshmen or a sophomore. There’s certainly quite a bit of talent on the rest of the roster — sophomores Rob Brandenburg, Juvonte Reddic and DJ Haley all look like they have a chance to become all-CAA players down the road, while freshmen Reco McCarter and Teddy Okereafor were good enough to earn a handful of high-major offers — but its raw talent.

That group of youngsters has been forced to learn on the fly, and they’ve done a pretty good job. The Rams handled South Florida and GW easily and nearly beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa. That counts for something, but these kids still have plenty of room to grow, and its not just developing their basketball skills.

“Just confidence, every body playing with confidence,” Burgess said when asked about where his team needs to grow. “We’re a young team, sometimes if things don’t go well, we drop our games and get down on ourselves. We’re a good team, so when things don’t go well, you have to battle through and move on to the next play. You have to make sure that at the next opportunity, you make the play.”

Smart, on the other hand, is looking for more consistent effort, saying “When we are the aggressor, we’re pretty good. We have to be the tougher, scrappier team.”

The CAA is wide open this season, as league favorites — Drexel and George Mason — struggle and CAA stalwarts — Old Dominion, Hofstra and even VCU — are all in rebuilding years. There’s no reason that the Rams can’t grow into a team capable of winning the Colonial come February and March.

But they will only go as far as Burgess leads them.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Zach Edey has 19 points, No. 1 Purdue beats Michigan 75-70

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Junfu Han/USA TODAY NETWORK
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Zach Edey had 15 of his 19 points in the first half and Fletcher Loyer finished with 17 points to help No. 1 Purdue hold off Michigan 75-70 on Thursday night.

The Boilermakers (20-1, 9-1 Big Ten) had a 15-0 run to go ahead 41-28 lead in the first half after there were 10 lead changes and four ties, but they couldn’t pull away.

The Wolverines (11-9, 5-4) were without standout freshman Jett Howard, who missed the game with an ankle injury, and still hung around until the final seconds.

Joey Baker made a 3-pointer – off the glass – with 5.9 seconds left to pull Michigan within three points, but Purdue’s Brandon Newman sealed the victory with two free throws.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said Michigan slowed down Edey in the second half by pushing him away from the basket.

“They got him out a little more, and got him bottled up,” Painter said.

The 7-foot-4 Edey, though, was too tough to stop early in the game.

“He’s one of the best in the country for a reason,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “He’s very effective, especially if he’s 8 feet and in.”

With size and skills such as a hook shot, the junior center from Toronto scored Purdue’s first seven points and finished the first half 7 of 12 from the field and 1 of 2 at the line.

“He did a great job in the first half, going to his right shoulder and using his left hand,” Painter said. “He made four baskets with his left hand which is huge.”

Freshman Braden Smith had 10 points for the Boilermakers.

Purdue’s defense ultimately denied Michigan’s comeback hopes, holding a 22nd straight opponent to 70 or fewer points.

Hunter Dickinson scored 21, Kobe Bufkin had 16 points and Baker added 11 points for the Wolverines, who have lost four of their last six games.

Dickinson, a 7-1 center, matched up with Edey defensively and pulled him out of the lane offensively by making 3 of 7 3-pointers.

“Half his shots were from the 3, and that’s a little different,” Painter said. “His meat and potatoes are on that block. He’s the real deal.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Boilermakers got the top spot in the AP Top 25 this week after winning six games, a stretch that followed a loss to Rutgers on Jan. 3 that dropped them from No. 1 in the poll. Purdue improved to 7-2 as the top-ranked team.

BIG PICTURE

Purdue: Edey can’t beat teams by himself and he’s surrounded by a lot of role players and a potential standout in Loyer. The 6-4 guard was the Big Ten player of the week earlier this month, become the first Boilermaker freshman to win the award since Robbie Hummel in 2008.

“Fletcher is somebody who has played better in the second half, and on the road,” Painter said.

Michigan: Jett Howard’s health is a critical factor for the Wolverines, who will have some work to do over the second half of the Big Ten season to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Howard averages 14.6 points and is the most dynamic player on his father’s team.

ROAD WARRIORS

The Boilermakers were away from home for 12 of 23 days, winning all five of their road games. They won at Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan for the first time since the 1997-98 season and beat the Spartans and Wolverines on their home court in the same season for the first time in 12 years.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Hosts Michigan State on Sunday, nearly two weeks after the Boilermakers beat the Spartans by a point on Edey’s shot with 2.2 seconds left.

Michigan: Plays at Penn State on Sunday.

Miller scores 23, No. 10 Maryland tops No. 13 Michigan 72-64

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Diamond Miller scored 23 points, and No. 10 Maryland closed the first quarter with a 13-2 run and led the rest of the way in a 72-64 victory over No. 13 Michigan on Thursday night.

Abby Meyers contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Terrapins (17-4, 8-2), who won for the 10th time in 11 games. Lavender Briggs scored 14 points and Shyanne Sellers added 13.

Maryland gained a measure of revenge after losing twice to Michigan last season – including a 20-point rout in College Park.

Leigha Brown led the Wolverines with 16 points.

Michigan (16-5, 6-4) led 13-9 in the first quarter before a three-point play by Miller started Maryland’s big run. Briggs and Faith Masonius made 3-pointers during that stretch.

The Terps pushed the lead to 16 in the third quarter before the Wolverines were able to chip away. Miller sat for a bit with four fouls, and Michigan cut the lead to seven in the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines still wasted too many possessions with turnovers to mount much of a comeback.

Michigan ended up with 24 turnovers, and Maryland had a 25-5 advantage in points off turnovers.

Miller fouled out with 2:19 remaining, but even after those two free throws, the Terps led 65-57 and had little trouble holding on.

Michigan lost for the second time in four days against a top-10 opponent. No. 6 Indiana beat the Wolverines 92-83 on Monday.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan: Whether it was against Maryland’s press or in their half-court offense, the Wolverines turned the ball over too much to score consistently. This was a lower-scoring game than the loss to Indiana, but the margin ended up being similar.

Maryland: While Miller clearly led the way, the Terps had plenty of offensive contributors. They also held Michigan to 13 points below its season average entering the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Wolverines have appeared in 48 straight AP polls, and although a two-loss week could certainly drop them, the quality of their opponents could save them from a substantial plunge.

Maryland is tied for 10th with an Iowa team that beat No. 2 Ohio State on Monday night. Now the Terps can boast an impressive victory of their own.

UP NEXT

Michigan: The Wolverines play their third game of the week when they visit Minnesota on Sunday.

Maryland: The Terps host Penn State on Monday night.

 

Boum, Jones lead No. 13 Xavier over No. 19 UConn, 82-79

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STORRS, Conn. – Souley Boum scored 21 points, Colby Jones added 20 and No. 13 Xavier went on the road and held off No. 19 Connecticut 82-79 Wednesday night.

The win was the 13th in 14 games for the Musketeers (17-4, 9-1 Big East) and it gave them a season sweep over the struggling Huskies (16-6, 5-6).

Jack Nunge had 12 points and Jerome Hunter added 11 for Xavier, which led by 17 in the first half and 39-24 at halftime.

Jordan Hawkins scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half for UConn, leading a comeback that fell just short.

Tristen Newton added 23 points for the Huskies, who won their first 14 games this season but have dropped six of eight since.

The Musketeers never trailed but had to withstand UConn runs that cut the lead to a single point four times in the second half.

A three-point play from Hawkins made it 78-77 with 2:40 left. But a second-chance layup from Nunge put the lead at 80-77 just over a minute later.

Newton was fouled with two seconds left by Desmond Claude, but his apparent attempt to miss his second free throw went into the basket.

Boum then hit two free throws at the other end, and Newton’s final attempt from just beyond halfcourt was well short.

Xavier jumped out to a 9-0 lead as UConn missed its first nine shots.

A 3-pointer from Zach Freemantle gave the Musketeers their first double-digit lead at 20-9, and another from Jones pushed it to 35-18.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: The Musketeers lead the Big East, and the win over UConn was their ninth conference victory this season, eclipsing their total from last season.

UConn: The Huskies came in with a 17-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion dating to February 2021. They fell to 1-4 against the four teams in front of them in the Big East standings. The lone win came at Gampel against Creighton.

UP NEXT

Xavier: The Musketeers continue their road trip with a visit to Creighton on Saturday.

UConn: Doesn’t play again until next Tuesday, when the Huskies visit DePaul.

No. 12 Iowa State holds on to beat No. 5 Kansas State 80-76

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AMES, Iowa – Jaren Holmes matched his season high with 23 points as No. 12 Iowa State held on to beat No. 5 Kansas State 80-76 on Tuesday night.

The Cyclones (15-4, 6-2 Big 12) moved into a three-way tie atop the conference standings with the Wildcats and Texas.

Gabe Kalscheur added 19 points for Iowa State. Osun Osunniyi finished with 16.

Markquis Nowell led Kansas State (17-3, 6-2) with 23 points.

A 3-pointer from Holmes gave Iowa State a 59-49 advantage with 8:12 remaining. Kansas State responded with a 10-1 run to trim the margin to 60-59.

Caleb Grill’s 3-pointer steadied the Cyclones and pushed the lead back to 63-59 with five minutes left.

Free throws by Osunniyi, Grill and Holmes sealed the victory in the final 24 seconds.

The first half featured eight lead changes and ended with Kansas State up 33-31.

A 3-pointer by Kalscheur ignited an early 9-0 run for the Cyclones and helped them build a 19-14 lead. Iowa State made just one of nine 3-point tries in the first 20 minutes.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State was trying to extend its best start to a season since 1961-62.

Iowa State improved to 11-0 at home. The Cyclones have not lost back-to-back games this season.

UP NEXT

Kansas State hosts Florida on Saturday as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

Iowa State travels to Missouri on Saturday.

Georgetown snaps 29-game conference losing streak

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WASHINGTON – Primo Spears scored 21 points and Georgetown snapped a 29-game conference losing streak with an 81-76 victory over DePaul on Tuesday night.

Georgetown (6-15, 1-9) won its first Big East game since March 13, 2021, ending the longest skid in the history of the conference. The Hoyas also ended a 10-game losing streak this season.

Spears also contributed six assists for the Hoyas. Akok Akok scored 12 points and added six rebounds and four blocks and Brandon Murray recorded 12 points.

Umoja Gibson led the Blue Demons (9-12, 3-7) in scoring, finishing with 24 points, four assists and three steals. Javan Johnson added 13 points.

Spears scored nine points in the first half and Georgetown went into the break trailing 37-36. Georgetown used a 10-0 run in the second half to build a 12-point lead at 75-63 with 1:39 remaining.