Nov. 18, 2011
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) – Glen Rice Jr. was happy to be back on the court. Georgia Tech was just as glad to have him there instead of on the bench.
Rice scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half as the Yellow Jackets overcame a 13-point deficit to defeat Virginia Commonwealth 73-60 at the Charleston Classic on Friday night. Rice had missed his team’s first three games, suspended by first-year coach Brian Gregory for violating team rules.
Tech moves on to face LSU (2-2), a 76-57 winner over Western Kentucky Friday, in the tournament’s fifth-place game at 2:30 p.m. Sunday (CSS/ESPN3). The tournament takes Saturday off.
The Yellow Jackets’ leading returning scorer and rebounder wasn’t around for his team’s tournament opener, a 66-53 loss to Saint Joseph’s that dropped them into the loser’s bracket of the eight-team tournament. This time, Rice was the catalyst for a comeback that left Gregory smiling about what could be for his young program.
“One, he gives us more depth on the perimeter and, two, we get more guys who can make plays for each other,” Gregory said.
Unless they’re doing it by themselves, as the 6-foot-5 son of former Michigan star Glen Rice looked like he was for a stretch of the second half. Trailing 38-33, Rice hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Yellow Jackets the lead for good. Rice wasn’t done, though.
He hit another jumper and, after Mfon Udofia made a 3-pointer, hit one more from behind the arc as part of an 18-4 run that took VCU out of it with 9:30 to go. The Rams (1-2) never got closer than six points the rest of the way.
“I was pretty happy because players don’t like to sit out,” Rice said. “I was a little nervous in the beginning, but thanks to my team, they helped me get back in it.”
Rice made his first basket with 5:06 left in the half, then sent home a two-handed slam about four minutes later that brought a smile to his face and some high fives from his teammates.
Rice really got going after the break in Georgia Tech’s go-ahead rally. He made 7 of 11 shots, including three 3-pointers, and tied for team highs with eight rebounds and four assists. Rice also had three steals and a block in his return.
Bradford Burgess had 17 points to lead VCU (1-2), while Troy Daniels scored 13.
VCU coach Shaka Smart had tried to lure Rice to Clemson when Smart was an assistant for Oliver Purnell. Rice was the one player, Smart said, who was able to break down the Rams’ pressure defense and get some easy baskets.
VCU came to the tournament with a run of six straight wins against teams from BCS conferences, a streak that ended in the first round here Thursday night with a 69-54 loss to Seton Hall of the Big East. Now, last year’s Final Four participants will take on Western Kentucky on Sunday trying to avoid leaving Charleston with three straight victories.
The Rams led 26-14 with six minutes left in the opening half. But the Yellow Jackets used a 9-2 run to tighten the game with about a minute to go. That’s when Brandon Burgess hit a 3-pointer to send VCU to the locker room ahead 31-23.
Smart called the opening half the best one VCU has played this year. The Rams, he said, didn’t come out with the same energy to finish things off. “We’re going to have to get better in the second half when we’re away from our bench and there are five guys defending, making sure that five bands together,” Smart said.
“Beating them, it made us feel good,” Rice said. “But what felt the best was knowing we stuck together as a team even when they threw their best punch.”
Rice had 11 points during an 18-4 run as the Yellow Jackets (3-1) overcame a 13-point deficit. Georgia Tech will take on LSU in Sunday’s fifth-place game at TD Arena.
Rice had missed his team’s first three games for a rules violation. Georgia Tech’s top returning scorer and rebounder got off to a slow start, but found his game in the second half. He also had eight rebounds, four assists and four steals.
VCU (1-2) will take on Western Kentucky in Sunday’s seventh-place game as last year’s Final Four participants look to avoid a third straight loss.
Later Sunday, Seton Hall and Northwestern, which visits Atlanta for a game Nov. 29 at Philips Arena, meet in the championship game at 8:30 p.m., while Tulsa and Saint Joseph’s face off in the third-place game.