Virginia Commonwealth University and Old Dominion University are separated by just 92 miles. The trip takes an hour and a half on a clear Saturday morning – two to three hours if the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel is gridlocked with cars.
The two universities were born to be rivals. The schools are essentially like brothers that don’t get along: both can trace their histories as affiliate schools of the College of William & Mary. ODU, originally the Norfolk Division of W&M, was founded in 1930. Five years prior, Richmond Professional Institute became part of William & Mary. RPI merged with the Medical College of Virginia to create VCU in 1968.
As VCU and ODU tip-off for the 96th time Saturday, the Monarchs and the Rams face a rivalry that has lost a bit of the juice that propelled it for years. Formerly an intraconference matchup, ODU and VCU were both members of the Sun Belt conference from 1982-1991, and shared membership in the Colonial Athletic Association from 1995 until 2012.
Despite not carrying as much weight as a non-conference game, the fans still show out on both sides and provide their own energy for the rivalry. A picture of an ODU fan burning an old VCU t-shirt even began to make rounds on Twitter 24 hours before Saturday’s tip-off.
In a pandemic year, where all people have had to give up so many things, perhaps it is a sign of comfort that the VCU-ODU rivalry game goes on uninterrupted, albeit without the packed crowds at the Siegel Center. With so many games being eliminated from the calendar, fans should be thankful that VCU and ODU are playing each other at all this fall.
My Rivalry Memories
I put out the call on Twitter yesterday, asking fans to share their greatest memories from the ODU-VCU rivalry. Before getting to the fantastic responses I got, I would like to share two memories.
I was the play-by-play announcer for the game for VCU’s student-run radio station, WVCW, for two ODU-VCU games. Both games resulted in wins for the Rams, but in two different ways.
The first of these games was 2017, a game that was close throughout before VCU pulled off a seven-point victory. Justin Tillman and De’Riante Jenkins both scored over 20 points, leading a VCU offense that struggled to open the second frame. A 3-pointer by Tillman with 10 minutes to play sparked an offensive rally that gave VCU a lead it would never surrender.
My strongest memory came pre-game. As I was doing on-air checks, security escorted a fan out of the game that had a little bit too much fun before entering the arena. For some reason, my color commentator led the broadcast talking about it. So, somewhere deep in WVCW’s radio archives lives a digital record of a VCU fan’s escort out of the Stu.
The 2019 contest was the night of my birthday, a game that VCU had in control throughout. The Rams won by double-digits, with Marcus Santos-Silva leading all scorers with 13.
My co-broadcaster from that night, Adam Cheek, selected that game as his favorite ODU-VCU memory.
“Winter games are the best,” Cheek said. “We got to see Santos-Silva, [Marcus] Evans and [Issac] Vann all chip in double-digit points.”
The noise, my goodness the noise, from over 7,000 fans at the Siegel Center was deafening. Literally deafening. I had to yell into the mic just to have my voice audible on air. I nursed a headache and ringing ears later that night at my birthday party. In 2020, memories like that seem even more valuable.
2016: The JeQuan Lewis Show
“2016 at ODU,” VCU fan Jishnu Purihella replied. “Looked like we were going to lose but then late in the second half JeQuan Lewis (all time fav Ram) went on a personal 8-0 run to take the lead.”
Lewis, a senior guard at the time, cemented his already-solid VCU legacy with an explosive second half. Behind enemy lines at Old Dominion’s Ted Constant Center, Lewis made four 3-pointers in the second half and scored 12 points during the Rams’ 16-1 run that gave VCU a 67-64 comeback win.
VCU trailed throughout before taking its first lead on a Lewis layup with 5:16 to play. Lewis’s 9-0 run was courtesy of a four-point play, the go-ahead layup and a 3-pointer. Lewis ended the game with 20 points.
The stunning turnaround was also VCU fan Cameron Quinn’s favorite memory.
“2016 at ODU in the Big Blue Room fully decked out in VCU gear. Lots of dirty looks,” Quinn replied.
The CAA Days
In 2011, VCU and ODU met twice in the regular season, each winning on the road.
The third matchup was for all the marbles: the CAA title game at the Richmond Coliseum. On the line was an automatic bid into March Madness.
Old Dominion took a commanding first half lead and never looked back, even as VCU pieced together a second half rally that fell five points short. ODU won off a 22-point, nine rebound day from Frank Hassell, and locked up an NCAA tournament berth.
“What really cemented my hatred in stone was the waving of their keys during the final seconds of the 2011 CAA Championship Game,” VCU fan Dennis Jove said via Twitter direct messages. Jove said that when the CAA tournament was held in Richmond the rivalry got even more heated.
“When the CAA came to Richmond, they’d say things like ‘THIS IS OUR CITY’,” Jove said. “And I’d reply, ‘I’m glad you got to leave your hometown for a day’.”
In the end, in the words of Jove, VCU “certainly got [their] revenge” in 2011. Shaka Smart’s Rams received an at-large bid to March Madness and would go on to make the Final Four for the first time in program history. Old Dominion lost to Butler in the Round of 64.
Although the atmosphere is different in our new normal, here’s to hoping Saturday’s matchup creates another classic that fans can talk about for years to come.
- In 10 meetings since that CAA title game, VCU leads 8-2. The Rams have won four of the last five meetings, broken up by a 2018 home win for the Monarchs. The Rams lead the overall series 51-44.
- The highest scoring individual performance in VCU’s record book predates VCU itself. Richmond Professional Institute Green Devil Donald Ross Jr. scored 55 points on Feb. 14, 1968 against Old Dominion.
- In that same game, Old Dominion set a program record for points scored (152). ODU’s Bob Pritchett set program records for field goals made (27) and points in a game (67).
- The second-highest scoring day by a VCU Ram is from Chris Cheeks. Cheeks scored 42 in a 1989 meeting with Old Dominion.
- VCU has entered the game in the AP Top 25 rankings twice. In 2014, #14 VCU lost to ODU by six, last year #20 VCU beat ODU by 12. ODU has never entered a matchup with VCU in the AP Top 25 rankings.
- VCU owned this rivalry in the aughts, winning 10 straight meetings between 2001 and 2005. That is the longest streak by one school in the rivalry’s history.