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MEN’S BASKETBALL: VCU loses close A-10 title contest
BROOKLYN, N.Y.—By the time three days of hard-fought, knock-down drag-out basketball had passed, Shaka Smart’s voice was difficult to pick up.
Back-to-back-to-back games in the Atlantic 10 Tournament had turned the VCU coach’s voice into a dull rasp from hollering the playbook of his fierce Havoc-style defense.
It was the aftermath of a three-day bracket-battle, one that ended with a 62–56 loss to Saint Louis in the championship game for VCU.
“They’re in that locker room crying right now,” Smart said regarding his team. “But they have nothing to feel sorry about because of the way they battled and fought.”
The Rams will play in their third straight NCAA Tournament, where they face MAC champion Akron on Thursday. VCU has gone 9–2 in the first year of its league tournament in four different conferences.
The insurance of knowing they would receive an at-large bid to the Big Dance served as little consolation for a VCU team looking to hoist a trophy in their first year in the league.
“That’s about the only positive thing you can bring out of the situation,” a dejected Darius Theus said.
As he made his way through the back hallways of Barclays Center, Smart stared down at a stat sheet and shook his head. VCU had its chances against a gritty and defensively stable Saint Louis team.
But there were pieces that had gone missing.
Treveon Graham scored a team-high 20 points and Juvonte Reddic had 15, but they were the only players in double-figures for the Rams, who can regularly rely on a third scorer to emerge.
VCU’s three-point marksman Troy Daniels hit 10 3-pointers over the first two games of the tournament, a mark tied for sixth-most in Atlantic 10 Tournament history. On this day though, Daniels was held back by foul trouble and was 0-for-4 in his attempts from out deep.
Normally if one player is having trouble shooting the ball a third or fourth scorer comes to the rescue for VCU, whether it’s Daniels, Rob Brandenberg or freshman Melvin Johnson. Instead, the Rams shot 19-for-56 and it never materialized.
“They weren’t really falling for us tonight,” Graham said. “The shots that we normally make weren’t falling for us.”
VCU fell behind by as much as 13 with just under 12 minutes left in the second half, but stormed back to make it a one possession game thanks to some timely forced turnovers. But 3-pointers by St. Louis’ Kwamain Mitchell and Cody Ellis down the stretch never allowed the Rams to get over the hump.
The Billikens turned the ball over 18 times, marking VCU’s first loss of the season when forcing the opponent to commit 15 or more turnovers.
For Saint Louis, winning its first ever Atlantic 10 title was about honoring former coach Rick Majerus, who passed away in December. Interim head coach Jim Crews took over and led the Billikens to a regular-season and conference-tournament championship.
For VCU, losing the conference championship is another motivational tool heading toward the NCAA Tournament. The Rams made headlines in 2011 by using criticism for their inclusion to the tournament in making a run to the Final Four after losing to Old Dominion in the CAA finals.
VCU will be fine, Smart made clear, and that a letdown Sunday afternoon wasn’t a cause for concern.
“I don’t think our team needs a wake-up call,” Smart said. “We’re going to the NCAA Tournament next week and if you’re not motivated for that, then you shouldn’t be playing.”
Jim Swing: 540/374-5440