VCU’s lack of offensive tempo put an abrupt halt to head coach Will Wade’s dream scenario of accomplishing an Atlantic 10 tournament title in his first championship game against Saint Joseph’s Sunday.
The Hawks defeated VCU, the reigning A-10 tournament champions, in an 87-74 game at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn — a tough conclusion to VCU’s wins against UMass in the Friday quarterfinals and Davidson in the semis on Saturday.
“Our guys have fought all year,” Wade said. “To St. Joe’s credit, they showed up ready to go.”
The Hawks have won two of the last three A-10 Tournaments and came out firing on Sunday, led by Isaiah Miles and DeAndre’ Bembry. The St. Joe’s offense shot 64.8 percent from the field, connecting on 35-54 shot attempts. VCU’s typically-stingy defense couldn’t find an effective answer to stopping the two A-10 studs.
“Miles and Bembry were phenomenal tonight, Wade said. “They absolutely killed us.”
Miles registered 26 points and 12 rebounds on the afternoon. The 6-foot-7 athletic forward was named the most outstanding player of the tournament. His frontcourt partner Bembry, went on to tally 30 points, five rebounds and four assist, and was named to the A-10 All-Championship Team.
Offensively, VCU senior Korey Billbury and junior JeQuan Lewis were the Rams most productive assets.
Lewis recorded 19 points and seven assists; his best outing of the weekend. Billbury continued his hot tournament shooting with 19 points and a spot on the A-10 All-Championship Team.
Matched against Bembry for the majority of his time on the court, Billbury found himself in a dogfight to gain position on drives to the basket.
“We knew what we were supposed to do,” Billbury said. “It wasn’t them, it was us.”
The Rams’ offense shot a promising 41.2 percent from the field, but another poor shooting day from 3-point territory was the reason VCU was unable to shorten the Hawks’ lead for the entirety of the game. The Rams only connected on seven of their 29 attempts.
At the 8:32 mark in the second half, the Hawks Papa Ndao was given a flagrant-1 for mouthing-off to the official after a foul was called against him. As he walked to the bench, Ndao raised his arm in dismay at the official, said something again, and was thrown out of the contest.
Ndao ejection was the break VCU fans were waiting for all game.
“We were able to get (the point deficit) within single digits and I was proud of the way our guys battled,” Wade said. “Maybe if one of those three’s had fallen when we got it back to seven or nine might have been a different deal.”
Two questions face a dejected VCU awaiting the Selection Sunday decision: what seed and location will the Rams get, and how is the health of senior Melvin Johnson, who limped off the court as the buzzer sounded during Friday’s quarterfinal matchup against Davidson?
Johnson only had five points on 2-7 shooting from the field. VCU will need their top assassin at 100 percent to fortify the Rams’ hopes of making a NCAA Tournament run. VCU is rumored to be an eighth seed in the tournament, and the Rams could find themselves playing in the ideal Raleigh East Coast region.
“We’ll be ready to go wherever they send us,” Wade said. “We need to rest a little bit and get ready to go later on this week.”
Selection Sunday airs on CBS at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
Sports Editor, Bryant Drayton
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