The VCU Rams won their first Atlantic 10 Conference championship with a 71-65 win over the Dayton Flyers in the final on March 15.
The VCU Rams are Atlantic 10 Conference champions.
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Fifth-seeeded Virginia Commonwealth University won its first-ever Atlantic 10 title with a 71-65 win over the Dayton Flyers on March 15, per The Richmond Times-Dispatch's Tim Pearrell. The Rams sought retribution after losing in the final round the past two years.
They did so in resounding fashion, playing four games in four nights -- all wins, per Pearrell.
VCU relied on 10 three-pointers to establish a lead which it never relinquished in the second half. A steal from Doug Brooks and eight free throws from Terry Larrier, JeQuan Lewis and Treveon Graham in the last 40 seconds to put the game out of reach, per The Richmond Times-Dispatch.
After Graham's drive gave his team a 61-59 lead with 1:14 on the game clock, Pearrell says VCU Rams head men's basketball coach Shaka Smith called a timeout to employ a zone-defense strategy which is geared toward stopping Datyon point guard Dayshon "Scoochie" Smith, who had 16 points.
The strategy worked.
Brooks stepped in and stole a pass. He then fed Brooks for a fastbreak layup for a 63-59 lead with time down to 54 seconds, per Pearrell.
Graham led the Rams with 20 points. Lewis added 15 points, Mo Alie-Cox chipped in with 13 while Larrier had 10 for VCU. Graham, who would be proclaimed tournament MVP, was optimistic from the get-go, per The Richmond Times-Dispatch update.
"I was like,'We can do this,'" Graham quipped. "Everybody's got to play their part. We don't have to play perfect. It reminded everybody what we were looking for, and that was a ring."
The Rams dedicated the game to injured guard Briante Weber, who tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus during a loss to the Richmond Spiders on Feb. 1.
According to Pearrell, the Rams told Weber he would be part of the net-cutting ceremony on Sunday. He was. Weber quipped,"They said,'Bri, we're going to cut down the net and you're going to be the last one holding the net. I believed them."
For his part, Smith told The Richmond Times-Dispatch of how proud he was of his team's sense of purpose:
"I wanted our team to be able to cut the nets down on senior night. Obviously, we went through some adversity. We weren't able to do that. For our guys to respond and be able to win a championship and cut the nets down says a lot about their togetherness and their decision to be connected around a common goal."
Despite the loss, the Flyers took solace in the fact they made the NCAA Tournament. Not only that, they also get to host the opening round against the Boise State Broncos at UD Arena on March 18. The 25-8 Flyers are seeded 11th, per The Dayton Daily News' Brian Kollars.
Dayton senior guard Jordan Sibert told Kollars the verdict was no less than shocking. "We're extremely shocked," Sibert said. "We didn't really expect that. I don't know what we expected, but that wasn't it."
Flyers head men's basketball coach Archie Miller said described the opportunity as "aweseome," per Kollars:
"Usually in the NCAA Tournament, you're on a bus or a plane, and you're ready to get shipped off. This is a unique one. Us being in our arena, it's going to be interesting to see how it all works out.
"But back-to-back NCAA tournaments is what it's about. It's an awesome opportunity for our program. I'm really happy for this team in general for what they've been doing all season to be back in the tournament."
NCAA tournament selection committe chairman said the decision on the Dayton Flyers "falls within the context" of its procedures during the Selection Show on CBS (via The Dayton Daily News).
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