Sunday, March 15, 2015

Virginia Commonwealth: 2014-15 Atlantic 10 Men's Basketball Champions


NEW YORK -- Treveon Graham scored 20 points and Doug Brooks made a huge steal in the final minute to help VCU beat Dayton 71-65 on Sunday and win its first Atlantic 10 tournament championship.
Fifth-seeded VCU (26-9) had lost the last two A-10 finals -- in their first two seasons in the conference -- but this time strung together four wins in as many days to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Not that they needed it. VCU -- and Dayton for that matter -- were considered to already be NCAA-bound.
Graham gave VCU a 61-59 lead with 1:13 left on a drive to the basket. Then Brooks picked off a Dayton pass and fed JeQuan Lewis for a layup to put VCU up four with 53 seconds left.
Jordan Sibert made three free throws with 10.6 seconds left for second-seeded Dayton (25-8) to make it 67-65, but VCU closed it out from the free throw line.
Scoochie Smith led Dayton, which was looking for its first A-10 title since 2003, with 16 points. Sibert and Dyshawn Pierre both had 14.
It's been four years since coach Shaka Smart and the Rams went from the First Four to Final Four in the NCAA Tournament. Last year, VCU was knocked out of the NCAAs in its first game.
This season's team was expected to be one of Smart's best. The Rams started the season ranked No. 15 in the country and as the overwhelming favorite to win the A-10.
The Rams were rolling along with a 17-3 record when star guard Briante Weber blew out his knee at the end of a loss to Richmond. The Rams went 5-5 to end the regular season and slipped to the fifth seed. That meant they would need to win four games at Barclays Center to earn that elusive A-10 tournament title.
They seemed to get a little better each day, a little more comfortable playing without Weber, who leads their havoc defensive pressure.
Lewis, his replacement in the starting lineup, scored 15 points in the title game. Lewis made two free throws with 7.9 seconds left to put VCU up 69-65. Burly center Mo Alie-Cox added 13 points.
Weber is not playing, but he's still with the team. The senior from Chesapeake, Virginia, has been stationed next to the assistant coaches on the bench this week, a huge black brace immobilizing his right leg but not keeping him from standing up to shout instructions and encouragement to his teammates. He even made it over to a few team huddles during timeouts on Sunday, giving Lewis a squeeze on the shoulders or pat on the back.
When it was over, Weber left his crutches on the bench, made his way to center court and led the celebration, hopping on one leg and then crying on the shoulders of teammates and coaches who came to hold him up.
Pierre's straight-on 3-pointer for Dayton tied it at 55 for with 3:09 left and then the Rams and Flyers started trading scores, until Brooks' steal finally got VCU the stop it needed.
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