An improbable run to an Atlantic 10 championship and a NCAA tournament berth by the men’s basketball team was sparked by an unforeseen injury to it’s best defensive player.
When senior guard Briante Weber went down in the Jan. 31 meeting against University of Richmond, so did many fans hope for an extended season. It was on that day that Weber was promised by his teammates they would would do everything in their power to see the three-time A-10 Defensive Player of the Year cutting down a net in March.
“When I went out, Jan. 31st, they all came together and said, ‘Bri, we going to cut down the net, and you know who is going to be the last one holding the net?” said Weber. “They told me it was going to be me, and I believed them.”
VCU made good on their promise.
The Rams captured their first A-10 Championship with a 71-65 victory over the University of Dayton Flyers. With the help of his teammates, Weber received the net and all the emotions that went into that moment.
“Words really can’t explain how proud I am of these guys,” said Weber. “ It’s been an emotional roller coaster for us both; when I went out with an injury and then us winning, losing, everybody hopping off the bandwagon and so forth.”
Dayton head coach Archie Miller congratulated VCU on a ‘tremendous tournament run’ and praised the team’s resiliency and play for the final stretch of the season.
“I think Shaka has done a great job of having to balance losing Briante Weber and dealing with some injuries with Treveon Graham,” Miller said. “A lot of people started to say they weren’t this and they weren’t that. I think they just needed to some time to re-figure themselves out, get some confidence; and this tournament I really felt allowed them to do that and they really played fantastic. They really earned the Atlantic 10 Championship sort of the hard way.”
Without Weber for ten games, the team went 5-5 for the rest of the regular season finishing fifth in the A-10 Conference standings with an overall record of 22-9 and 12-6 conference record. The Rams suffered losses to St. Bonaventure University, LaSalle University, a second loss to Richmond, Dayton, and then a 27-point 82-55 loss to Davidson College. Many questioned without Weber, would VCU even reach the NCAA tournament?
A 71-60 home win over George Mason got the Rams back on track.In Brooklyn, VCU defeated Fordham University in the second round. The Rams then avenged regular season losses to Richmond, winning 70-67 and Davidson, 93-73. The Rams settled their affair with Dayton, taking down the Flyer’s 71-65 in the championship.
The A-10 crown earned the Rams an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament as a seventh seed. A length trip to Portland, Oregon pitted the team against 10-seed Ohio State University. VCU came close, but a loss in overtime, 75-72, ended the season of the Rams and Weber’s collegiate career.
“It’s hard for him,” said Smart on Weber was visibly upset after the game. “The last several weeks since he’s been out, he’s been in a tough spot because he wants to help his team. He’s used to being in the middle of it all as a leader and as a player.”
Weber led the team in every way imaginable without being an active player. That speaks to the influence the senior had on the team and one that VCU will miss.
Now Weber will have to focus on getting back to form to become the dominant player he was for four seasons with VCU to be that team leader on the next level. Smart believes Weber will find success post-VCU.
“I think he has a bright future in the game of basketball,” said. Smart.