BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The Atlantic 10 Championship came down to just three minutes of play, but the VCU men’s basketball team was unable claim the crown, falling to Saint Joseph’s University 65-61 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Sunday.
The Rams blew a six-point second-half lead and were tied at 54 with less than three minutes on the game clock before SJU’s Langston Galloway knocked down a long jumper to give the Hawks a three-point advantage they wouldn’t relinquish.
SJU extended its advantage to as many as six points and converted free throws from there to lock up its third A-10 tournament title.
The loss marked the second straight year VCU fell in the tournament’s title match, and head coach Shaka Smart said this year’s loss hurts just as bad.
“It’s difficult,” he said. “It’s not any more difficult because of what happened last year, you just want to win this year.”
Senior Rob Brandenberg scored 18 points and was named to the all-tournament team along with teammates Briante Weber and Treveon Graham, but the Rams were unable to stop Galloway and Halil Kanacevic, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player following his 11-point, 14-rebound performance.
VCU had some quality opportunities, Smart said, but was unable to convert the open looks. The Rams shot 26 percent from long range, 37 percent overall and made just eight of their 15 free throws.
Kanacevic and Galloway both played all 40 minutes in the contest, and Smart said his opponent deserves all the credit.
“Congratulations to coach Martelli and his team,” Smart said. “I think they’ve had a terrific year and they earned this championship today.”
To reach its second consecutive A-10 tournament championship game, VCU topped George Washington University 74-55 on Saturday.
The Rams’ semifinal matchup with GW was much closer than the score indicated. VCU came out flat against the Colonials and found themselves down six with just more than eight minutes to play in the first half.
Johnson exited the game with a left knee injury in the opening frame, but VCU would rally behind their teammate and Brandenberg netted a buzzer beating three-pointer, which gave VCU a two-point cushion heading into halftime.
The Colonials scored seven of the first 10 points in the second half and claimed a 38-36 lead before the Rams took over. From there, Graham scored seven consecutive points and VCU used a 41-point second half to close the door on GW’s tournament chances.
Graham led all scorers with 22 points, while Weber filled the stat sheet with 16 points, eight assists, six rebounds and two steals. Cox had his second straight impressive performance, chipping in eight points, seven rebounds and two blocks off the bench.
VCU grabbed 37 rebounds, including 11 on the offensive glass, and shot 44 percent from three-point range in the victory.
With the win, Smart moved into first place on VCU’s all-time wins list.
The Rams’ tournament run began Friday evening with a quarterfinals matchup against cross-town rival University of Richmond. The meeting was the third of the season between the Rams and Spiders, and VCU completed a clean 3-0 sweep of Richmond with a 71-53 victory in their first postseason game of 2014.
Weber came out of the gate strong, scoring the first six points of the contest in front of a Ram-heavy crowd. VCU shot just 40 percent from the field and 37 percent from long range, but used 20 offensive rebounds to generate 22 second-chance points.
The Rams pulled down 22 more rebounds than did Richmond on Friday and scored 21 points off of 14 Spiders turnovers.
Graham finished with 14 points and six rebounds, while Cox contributed seven points and 10 rebounds off the bench. Weber added five rebounds, two assists and two steals to complement his game-high 18 points, and VCU picked up its 25th victory of the season.