BROOKLYN, N.Y. ─ The Rams punched their ticket to their third-straight Atlantic 10 conference title game, defeating top-seeded Davidson College, 93-73.
On Saturday, March 14, a career-high 18 points from redshirt-sophomore Mo Alie-Cox was key. Davidson’s aggression was no answer to Alie-Cox’s sheer will to score under the basket. The Wildcats sent the 6-foot-6 big man to the foul line early and often. Alie Cox made 8-10 from the charity stripe and 5-8 from the floor.
Head coach Shaka Smart saw an opportunity to expose a mismatch that would aid Alie-Cox early on.
“The way LaSalle was able to score inside against Davidson, I told our guys, we have to go into Mo (Alie-Cox) and at least really, really try to pound it in there,” Smart said.
Smart’s strategy worked and resulted in the best scoring performance in Alie-Cox’s collegiate career.
“I thought Mo was terrific,” said Smart. “Mo’s had a great year. You know, he came into our program as a guy that we knew could be really good. But we knew the biggest step for him was just confidence in himself and assertiveness, and he’s grown in leaps and bounds in those two areas.”
Senior Treveon Graham bounced back from a quiet nine-point outing against the University of Richmond yesterday with 18 points on 7-10 shooting. The “freight train” went a perfect 4-4 from three and finished with nine rebounds, one shy for a double-double.
VCU held the A-10 leaders in three-point pointers made (190) and three-point field goal percentage (.394) to 26.9 percent on the day.
“We wanted to run them off the three-point,” Graham said. “We knew they needed threes.”
Sophomore guard JeQuan Lewis was sent to the line in the game’s closing minutes to finish with 13 points, seven of which was from the free-throw line. Lewis added four assists.
Freshman forward Terry Larrier scored 11 points and five rebounds to round out the double-digit performances for VCU. Junior guard Melvin Johnson and redshirt-sophomore guard Jordan Burgess each scored eight points. Freshman guard Jonathan Williams and sophomore guard Doug Brooks scored seven and six, respectively.
The game was a tale of runs by both teams. In the opening minutes of the conference semifinals, A-10 Player of the Year Tyler Kalinoski scored seven of Davidson’s first nine points. Davison’s lead would reach 12, before the Rams’ pressure intensified causing the Wildcats lead to dwindle.
Trailing 16-4 with 11:47 left to play in the first, Alie-Cox completed a three-point play opportunity to bring the Rams’ deficit under double-digits, 16-7 and shift momentum in the Rams’ favor.
In transition from the ensuing possession, an erratic pass from sophomore guard Brooks was saved by a falling Lewis. Lewis turned the near-error into an assist to Larrier in the corner for three. Larrier would score on the Rams’ next possession to reduce the lead to four, 16-12.
Possessions later, two three-pointers from Johnson and Lewis brought the Rams within one, 21-20.
Down three with 7:08 remaining in the first, the Rams went on a 15-0 run.
Alie-Cox gave the Rams their first lead, 24-23 with 6:05 remaining in the first. Back to back three-pointers by Graham pushed the lead to double-digits, 33-23.
VCU led 44-28 entering the break.
Davidson trailed by as many as 18 points against LaSalle University in the A-10 quarterfinal.
Against VCU, the Wildcats were down as many as 22 with 15:08 to play in the second half. Much like head coach Bob McKillop’s team did against the Explorers, the Wildcats battled back to reduce the deficit.
Wildcats put together a 14-0 run to reduce VCU’s lead and would get as close as five down with a Kalinoski three-pointer with 10:18 left to play in the game.
A Graham three-pointer helped the Rams go up 12 with 8:13 to play. The Rams’ lead would not fall under double-digits for the remainder of the contest en route to a 20-point victory in Brooklyn.
Graham said he felt the team attacked far better than in the previous encounter, resulting in more enthusiasm for the players.
“We had our ups and downs and we responded pretty well today and we’re going to have to do that the rest of the season,” Graham said.
Nine days ago, the Davidson Wildcats defeated VCU 82-55. Smart said he felt the score did not reflect the effort Davidson produced on the court.
“I thought obviously the final score really doesn’t illustrate how competitive the game was and how hotly contested it was,” said Smart. “Davidson is obviously a terrific team, as evidenced by the way that they beat us nine days ago.”
VCU will face University of Dayton in the A-10 conference title game on Sunday, March 14.