VCU makes return trip to A-10 finals

Justin Tillman celebrates VCU’s 87-77 Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Championship semifinal victory over Richmond. Photo credit: Atlantic 10 Conference/Mitchell Leff

Pittsburgh, PA — Joining the Atlantic 10 from another conference can be a difficult jump. When the VCU Rams departed the Colonial Athletic Association it would have been easy to understand if there was a drop off with the change in league.

Following an 87-77 overtime victory over Richmond in the Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Championship quarterfinals it would be easy to understand why VCU coach Will Wade was unsure of how many consecutive Atlantic 10 Championship title games his Rams have been a part of.

“This is their fourth straight won in the Atlantic 10, fifth overall,” he said. “They have been in the Atlantic 10 five years — how many is this overall, five in a row? Seven in a row in the championship game? Wow.”

#A10MBB Championship – Semifinals, #2 VCU 87, #3 Richmond 77

VCU Athletics punches their ticket to the #A10MBB Championship finale with an OT win over Richmond Athletics. Watch the full highlights!

Posted by Atlantic 10 Conference on Saturday, March 11, 2017

As for Richmond for a third time this season, it leaves the court against VCU falling short, this time in overtime when it had the lead in the final minute.

“I just feel like we played a great game today,” Richmond freshman guard De’Monte Buckingham said. “I feel like we battled so much. We gave it our all and left it on the floor. I’m surprised we didn’t come out with the win. I’m so proud of like my teammates and how we battled today and just did what we had to do and what coach was telling us to do, but it’s all good. We just going to keep working hard and keep pushing each other to the sky.”

Richmond overcame a four point deficit to lead by two points inside of a minute but JeQuan Lewis drove through the lane to convert a layup and tie the game.

With this basket came noise from the overwhelmingly pro-VCU crowd led by its band, the Peppas.

An important detail that comes with the proximity of these two universities is the recruiting battles and both Buckingham and fellow freshman Nick Sherod had family ties to VCU, but chose Richmond.

When the Spiders took their next possession, it was Sherod the player who did not choose VCU, who converted a 3-point shot that gave Richmond the lead back.

Richmond coach Chris Mooney called a timeout to set his defense, but it was to no avail as Lewis sank a 3-point basket of his own.

“I had shooting in my mind before the play even started,” said Lewis of the shot. “I wanted to put that on my shoulders.”

Referees did not see Wade trying to call a timeout, meaning VCU would have to set its defense on the fly.

When Richmond was able to execute a screen, VCU had to switch off and forward Mo Alie-Cox had to contain ShawnDre’ Jones who missed a fadeaway to force overtime.

“The last shot, that’s a situation we worked on for the past two weeks in practice on-switching out, Cline is at the screen, and I knew I had one-on-one,” Cox said. “I’m very confident in my foot speed and lateral movement to stay in front of the guards. I just tried to make it as difficult as possible and he couldn’t get over me.”

Wade had been vocal and emotional, partially due to the rivalry with Richmond in addition to what was at stake, but his excitement reached an all-time high after that defensive stand. Wade loudly screamed in excitement, pumped both fists, high fived each player as they came off the court and slapped a couple on the butt.

That was the moment, Wade felt the game belonged to VCU. Not only had VCU hit the last shot of regulation, but Richmond’s T.J. Cline, the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year was being held in check and also had four fouls meaning the Rams would be able to punish the Spiders at will in the post. VCU outscored Richmond 56-30 in the paint and shot 71.4% from the field in the overtime period.

“I felt good once it gets to over time,” he explained. “The team who forces over time wins 72 percent of the time. I liked our chances in overtime because of their foul trouble, and you know, quite frankly, that three just kind of — you could see it. You could see it. You knew they were going to have to hit a crazy shot in regulation to beat us, and they didn’t hit a circus shot in regulation.”

In the overtime period, VCU shot 71.4% from the field and Richmond could not match the Rams. With 28 seconds left in overtime, and VCU up seven points, Richmond tried calling a 30-second timeout, but it was out of timeouts and was assessed a technical foul, an instinctual, but final mistake which sealed the Spiders fate.

VCU will now move on to the Atlantic 10 Championship title game against Rhode Island.

The last time these two teams played, Rhode Island ended what was a nine-game VCU winning streak with a 69-59 win. VCU was out-rebounded 48-31 and was 1-15 on its 3-point shots.

If VCU wants its second Atlantic 10 Championship in its five years in the conference, it will need to play hard. For those expecting an offensive showcase, Wade believes you will be disappointed.

“They just absolutely punked us,” said Wade. “They had our offense pushed out to halfcourt. It was ugly. It was bad. They are the one team in the league that is, you know, as or more physical than we are and as big and strong as we are down low. It’s mono-a-mono tomorrow. It’s going to be a tractor pull. It’s going to be low-scoring and it’s going to be a grind-it-out type of deal. It’s on us, and so we’ll need to be ready.”

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