NEW YORK -- What started as a joke by Jamie Skeen turned into a lot of chances to score for the senior forward from Virginia Commonwealth.
Skeen had 23 points and nine rebounds and the Rams held off a late rally by UCLA for an 89-85 victory on Friday in the third-place game of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
"We were at dinner. I just made a joke about (getting the ball more) at first. I said I would love to get the ball more. My coach took it seriously. He said 'OK, we're going to get you the ball for real," Skeen said. "I said, 'All right, that will be nice.' He actually ran a play for me, I would say 10, 12 times in a row."
Second-year coach Shaka Smart confirmed that Skeen, who was 8 of 13 from the field and 7 of 8 from the free throw line, did ask for the ball more.
"To whom much is given, much is expected," Smart said. "And he produced tonight.
"I thought being able to throw the ball to Jamie Skeen on the block and get us positive production from there was a big key for us."
The Rams (4-1) led 69-58 with 7:08 to play on a layup by Rob Brandenburg. Tyler Honeycutt had seven points in a 12-4 run by UCLA (3-2) that got the Bruins within 73-70 with 4:11 left.
UCLA got within one point twice, the second time at 80-79 on a 3-pointer by Malcolm Lee with 1:48 to go. Skeen scored off a scramble in the lane and Brandon Rozzell followed a UCLA turnover with a breakaway dunk to give the Rams an 84-79 lead with 1:03 left.
Lazeric Jones scored on a drive with 14.3 seconds left to get the Bruins within 87-85. Joey Rodriguez went 1 for 2 from the line with 13.4 seconds to go to give VCU a three-point lead. UCLA came down with a chance to tie but Reeves Nelson's 3-point attempt with 5 seconds left was well off the mark and Bradford Burgess of VCU made one of two free throws with 2.7 seconds left.
"I thought UCLA did a great job of making shots and rebounding and usually if we give up that many points it's going to be a lightning night for us. We hung in there."
Burgess, who was 3 for 3 from 3-point range, had 15 points for the Rams and Rodriguez added 14, all but two on six 3-point attempts.
Lee was 5 for 7 from 3-point range and had 23 points for the Bruins, while Nelson had 20 points and 10 rebounds and Honeycutt had 18 points and 13 rebounds.
Virginia Commonwealth, which lost 77-72 to No. 24 Tennessee in the semifinals, finished 10 of 22 from 3-point range.
"We got off to a poor start fueled by some really bad shots," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "We were fighting uphill the whole way. We had it with a chance to take the lead the beginning of the second half and miss two foul shots. we did a better job in the second half of rebounding the ball. They shot extremely well from the 3, but most of those 3s were open."
UCLA outrebounded the Rams 24-12 in the second half for a 43-28 overall edge on the boards, but the Bruins committed 21 turnovers and VCU turned them into 24 points.
UCLA, which never led against VCU, lost 82-70 to No. 7 Villanova in the semifinals.
Skeen said there was a big reason the Rams wanted this game so badly.
"It was very important because for one, we had a seven-, eight-hour drive up here and we didn't want to back down the road on two losses," he said. "We wanted to win the first one, too but we came up short. So this was our last game. We were definitely concentrating on winning this last one."