Rhode Island set to party like it’s 1999

VCU’s JeQuan Lewis reacts as his team fell 70-63 to Rhode Island Sunday in the Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Championship title game. Photo credit: Atlantic 10 Conference/Mitchell Leff

Pittsburgh, PA — Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley knew this weekend had the potential to be a good one when he saw what his hotel room number was going to be.

Hurley, ever the superstitious coach went to the same Pittsburgh hotel that saw his then Wagner team upset #15 Pitt on December 25, 2011 and saw the room number 1115.

“My brother wore 11 in college, and I was 15 in college,” Hurley said. “Obviously a lot more people know his number than mine. There was some omens, and I felt really good coming in about how we were playing. I don’t want to leave Pittsburgh. I love it here.”

Hurley may have to leave Pittsburgh though but only because he team was able to defeat VCU 70-63 to win its first Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Championship since 1999, and second overall.

“We were carrying into the game, all the talk about us, which, you know, with the bubble and the preseason expectations and the injuries that went on during the course of the year; to be able to kind of keep ourselves, our heads above water until we got healthy, late, and to be able to go on the run that we went on late in the year once we got healthy, the resiliency we showed the whole year.” said Hurley. “Then to beat a team or a program like VCU, one of the top college basketball programs in the country, irregardless of conference, consistently an elite-level college basketball program coached by one of the best young coaches in the country. When you play in the conference championship game and you beat VCU, you just earned that trophy. We just earned that trophy, and that’s because of the special group of guys that I got to coach here; a resilient, tough, group of winners.”

#A10MBB Championship – #4 Rhode Island 70, #2 VCU 63

It was a great battle between the University of Rhode Island Rams and VCU Athletics in the #A10MBB Championship finale. The Rhody Rams defeated VCU by 7 to go dancing for the first time in 18 years. Watch the highlights from the title game!

Posted by Atlantic 10 Conference on Sunday, March 12, 2017

With Rhode Island’s excitement, and NCAA Tournament bid, something which certainly was not guaranteed a day prior, comes a feeling of disappointment from VCU.

For five consecutive years, VCU has made the Atlantic 10 Championship game but for a fourth time are runners-up.

“Obviously disappointed, but proud of the fight that we had,” VCU coach Will Wade said. “I’m proud of the regular season that we’ve had, and you know, hasn’t been easy. 26-8 is pretty good. We’ve got to, you know, get back and get ready to go to the Big Show and see if we can make a little noise. Give Rhode Island credit. They are very physical, they are very long. Their two wings, Jared Terrell, E.C. Matthews have been phenomenal here in the tournament, and you need your best players to play really well.”

When discussing Rhode Island Saturday afternoon, Wade mentioned the difference of 17 rebounds between the two teams. VCU had its way out-rebounding Rhode Island 47-36 overall and 23-9 on the offensive end, but it did not matter.

“You get 23 offensive rebounds, looks good on a stat sheet,” said Wade. “That’s a heck of a lot of misses, you know. Our guys did a good job. We went hard to the glass. I mean, you’ve got to convert a few of them, too, but we didn’t convert nearly enough of them.”

It was not all bad news for VCU though as it did make the NCAA Tournament, one of three Atlantic 10 teams to do so. VCU was assigned a 10 seed and will face seventh seeded St. Mary’s Thursday in Salt Lake City, Utah.

For a third straight game, Rhode Island got off to a fast start and VCU never led in the contest. It was clear that Rhode Island was motivated and perhaps playing with a chip on its shoulder considering the uncertainty it faced had there been an L in the column next to this game.

Perhaps the most surprising statistic that fell in Rhode Island’s favor was its six turnovers. VCU is a team that like to pressure and turn you over and that did not happen with any regularity Sunday.

“I think we just let the game come to us, and we didn’t try to do too much with the ball, dribbling,” URI’s Jared Terrell said. “When we need to pass it, we passed it. When we needed to drive, we drove it and made plays for each other.”

Rhode Island’s season started with a ranking and defeat of Cincinnati, contained with a struggle to win on the road and injury, but in the end did culminate in this NCAA Tournament selection as an 11 seed and the right to face Creighton Friday in Sacramento, California.

What Rhode Island did to win was eliminate the distractions. All of the players easily could have stayed Saturday afternoon after the semifinal win against Davidson, but instead they went back to the hotel while the coaches scouted VCU and Richmond.

All Hurley had to do was show a video containing the song “One Shining Moment”, a song synonymous with March Madness.

Nothing else had to be said.

“We have doubts, you know, we lose faith a little bit,” Rhode Island guard E.C. Matthews explained. “I think it just made us stronger. I think without those lumps in the season, we wouldn’t be ready for what we just did.”

All Tournament Team

Once again, Zachary Weiss of was given a chance to have a ballot for an Atlantic 10 All-Tournament Team, his first chance for men’s basketball. Below is his team with a short explanation followed by the final team.

Weiss’s ballot

  1. Jack Gibbs (Davidson) – This one was easy. Gibbs scored points, never let up and willed his team to victory over top-seeded Dayton. Gibbs gave his all to Davidson for four years and he will never be forgotten there.
  2. E.C. Matthews (Rhode Island) – Another easy nod. Just Rhode Island’s best player consistently through the tournament.
  3. Tyler Cavanaugh (George Washington) – GW’s stay could have been longer had it drawn up a final play, or been able to get Cavanaugh to put up a shot in the final 7:30 or so in regulation of the team’s loss to Richmond. This was to reward Cavanaugh for two great games on both ends of the floor and to also commend Maurice Joseph on a great coaching job, especially in the tournament.
  4. Hassan Martin (Rhode Island) – Excelled offensively but was the best defender this entire tournament. It was never even close.
  5. JeQuan Lewis ( VCU) – A VCU player needed to make this list in order to be recognized for getting back to the A-10 finals. Lewis edged out Justin Tillman for me because he was consistent. Tillman was a rebounding machine, but in the team’s semifinal win had just seven points and six rebounds. Secondly, the awards were collected at the final media timeout, before Tillman earned a double-double. Had there been more time, I would have considered Tillman but likely still gone Lewis. That second game was too much to overcome.

Most outstanding player– Matthews got the nod and there never was any other consideration. As a rule I wait until just before the final media timeout to write my MOP just to be fair to everyone on the floor. This time I made an exception. I looked at the stats and saw Matthews tied a career-high with nine rebounds in addition to everything else and wrote his name. I was sitting next to someone associated with Duquesne who saw me write his name down. Almost immediately after, Matthews just beat the shot clock with a dagger 3-point shot to put Rhode Island back up 11 points, supporting the decision.

This ballot one was of several votes taken into account from select media members and this was how the selections went:

  1. Jack Gibbs (Davidson)
  2. Marquise Moore (George Mason)- This was the only name not on the ballot and even though I selected Cavanaugh instead, Moore deserves it. He is an amazing rebounder, especially at the guard position and is unafraid to score the ball. This was a fantastic choice.
  3. JeQuan Lewis (VCU)
  4. Hassan Martin (Rhode Island)
  5. E.C. Matthews (Rhode Island)- Matthews was named Most Outstanding Player
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