In a game that had upset written all over it, VCU left little doubt in a 76-54 win over Davidson Saturday evening at the Barclays Center. The Rams are primed to compete for their second consecutive Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship tomorrow at 12:30 p.m.
“We did a good job on the glass and a good job contesting three’s against them,” said VCU Head Coach Will Wade. “Very proud of our guys; they’ve earned it. Now we have to turn the page quickly and get ready for tomorrow.”
With senior Melvin Johnson battling an ankle injury from Saturday’s matchup against UMass, fellow senior Korey Billbury came through in a big way. Totalling 17 points and a team-high of seven rebounds, the Tulsa native did not shy away from big moments in the Big Apple.
“He stepped up big time,” Wade said. “He was the one making the shots to increase our lead, which gave us the opportunity to rest up guys late.”
VCU claimed its third win of the year over Davidson and marked the second consecutive year the team knocked the Wildcats out of the semifinal round of the conference tournament.
The Rams’ defense capitalized on a sputtering Davidson attack — the Wildcats shot only 37 percent from the field. And at times, they struggled to find open looks. The Wildcats All A-10 guard Jack Gibbs was silenced for the majority of the contest, and did not register any points in the second half.
Often compared to NBA star and Davidson graduate Stephen Curry, Gibbs averages 24.4 points per contest. But the agile Davidson guard could do no right against a stingy VCU backcourt led by junior JeQuan Lewis and sophomore Jonathan Williams during this contest.
“We just wanted to contain him,” Lewis said. “He’s a great player — a great shooter — it’s like cutting the head off a snake when you take him out.”
The Wildcat offense had its lowest points total of the year, while VCU senior Mo Alie-Cox repeatedly dominated the Davidson big men.
Alie-Cox had 13 points and four rebounds throughout the evening, but it was his relentless energy on defense against Nathan Ekwu and Peyton Aldridge created his most memorable performances during the three matchups this season.
“They don’t have the bigs that can matchup with me,” Alie-Cox said. “They doubled me a lot — when they show me that kind of attention then I can use my pass and get other guys involved.”
Breaking through ball screens were pivotal for VCU to stop Davidson. The Wildcats shot nearly 40 percent from 3-point territory this season, but totalled a meager 21.7 percent during the semifinal tonight.
“Their ball screens give us problems even though we’ve had success against them in the past,” Wade said. “We downed Gibbs on the left side where he is much less efficient.”
Defending A-10 Tournament champions VCU will tip-off against Saint Joseph’s tomorrow at 12:30 p.m.
The Rams defeated St. Joe’s in their only matchup of the season on Jan. 5, when the Rams traveled to Philadelphia and beat the Hawks on their home court 85-82.
The Hawks benefit from having the A-10’s player of the year DeAndre Bembry, who registered 17 points in the January matchup. The player who gave VCU the most trouble that game was not Bembry, but forward Isaiah Miles who exploded for a 31 point performance on 11-14 shooting.
“We haven’t seen them in a month and a half so we will put together a gameplan and be ready to roll at 12:30 p.m,” Wade said. “The tougher team sets the rules and we will see how that goes.”
During the waning moments of Saturday’s semifinal game, the VCU crowd took to their feet chanting Wade’s name in unison. Just a year ago Shaka Smart led this team to a tournament championship — tomorrow Wade has his first chance at cutting down the nets in Brooklyn.
“The pressure is on us,” Wade said. “The fans have really taken to our team this season and hopefully we can give them a great moment tomorrow.
Tomorrow’s game will be VCU’s sixth conference final since 2011, when the team did not win the CAA but made it to the Final Four round of the NCAA. In 2012, VCU won the CAA championship, and lost the A-10 title in 2013 and 2014 at the Barclays Center to Saint Louis and Saint Joseph’s respectively. Last year, the Rams beat Dayton to claim their first A-10 Tournament championship.
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