RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Joey Rodriguez scored 14 straight points during a decisive second-half surge to lead Virginia Commonwealth past Saint Louis 68-56 on Monday night in the first game of the championship series of the College Basketball Invitational.
"Joey can get it going," said Ram coach Shaka Smart. "The thing that makes him dangerous — he led the CAA in assists. He's a rhythm shooter and came off ball screens into the lane."
Saint Louis rallied to cut the deficit to 3 points with 14:30 left, but Rodriguez took over during a 14-4 run that gave the Rams a 55-42 lead with 11:55 to go. Rodriguez hit three 3-pointers during the burst, including one that turned into a four-point play.
"They got the game to three (points)," said Rodriguez, "and I tried to make plays for my team."
Rodriguez finished with a game-high 22 points and six assists, and Larry Sanders added 20 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks for the Rams (26-9), who led by as many as 20.
"We didn't match their intensity level," Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus said. "We got stretched out (on defense). We're not used to rotational changing."
Willie Reed scored 11 points, and Kwamain Mitchell and Cody Ellis added 10 apiece for the Billikins (23-12).
The teams will play Game 2 of the best-of-three series in St. Louis on Wednesday.
Sanders and Brandon Rozzell each had four points during a 13-4 run over the final 4:02 of the first half to give the Rams a 36-25 lead at halftime.
"The coaches told me to go out and be aggressive," said Sanders. "I think (my play) has a huge effect on the game and my teammates. I've never finished the season with a win."
Smart was happy with his team's play.
"Most of the game, we were able to get the tempo at our pace," he said. "We got our hands on a lot of basketballs tonight."
Sanders scored 14 points in the first half.
"Larry was really good tonight," Smart said. "He set the tone for the game."
The Billikins were ahead 13-12 with 7:55 left in the half before the Rams hit 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions for a 21-15 lead.