The VCU Rams beat the Dayton Flyers in the Atlantic 10 Championship Game on Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center, 71-65. This was overdue, as VCU made the prior two A-10 championship games, but lost to Saint Louis in 2013 and St. Joseph’s a year ago.
VCU: A-10 Tournament MVP Treveon Graham – 20 points on 6-for-14 from the field, 3-8 on threes, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, a block, and a steal. JeQuan Lewis – 15 points on 5-for-11 from the field, 2-6 on threes, 4 assists, and 2 rebounds. Mo Alie-Cox – 13 points on a perfect 6-6 shooting, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists. Melvin Johnson chipped in 9 points off the bench, and Justin Tillman had 8 rebounds and a block.
Dayton: Scoochie Smith – 16 points on 5-for-14 shooting, 0-3 on threes, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. Jordan Sibert – 14 points on 3-6 from the field, 1-3 on threes, a rebound, and an assist. Dyshawn Pierre had 14 points on 6-11 from the field, 1-1 on threes, 11 rebounds, and 4 assists. Kendall Pollard had 13 points on 4-for-11 from the field, and 5 rebounds.
VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart: “I never wear hats but they gave us one for winning the Championship, so that doesn’t happen every day. Just really, really proud of our guys. Want to say, first of all, how impressed I’ve been with Dayton all year long. Obviously they have been undermanned and haven’t had a lot of guys, and the way they battled and played together and the job that Coach Miller and his staff have done is phenomenal.
“They were a really, really tough opponent today. Really neither team deserved to lose. We were just fortunate that we were able to make a couple more plays at the end. But they are a championship caliber team.
“Also want to say I appreciate our fans for coming up here. Our fans were terrific. For those that came up and were part of all four games, it showed a lot of faith in us, with us being the fiveseed and knowing we’re going to have to win four games to win a championship, and I’m glad we were able to reward them with that.”
Coach Smart on the momentum from beating Richmond: “I really think the momentum that we got from winning the Fordham game and then the Richmond game, that carried us into yesterday (win against Davidson). Yesterday was the best we’ve played here, and then today, our guys really fought and battled against a really terrific Dayton team.”
Q. You came up here last year, you played Saint Joe’s in the final, you lost, seemed a little flat and a little down after that game. The team went into the NCAAs and you were sort of flat playing in that first round. Is this game going to help you going forward; do you think the different outcome?
COACH SHAKA SMART: “We’ll see. I hope it does. I think not just this game, but really, this whole tournament, we’ve had to have a level of resolve and stay together, because all four games have been really challenging games. Even the Davidson game yesterday, the final margin was a lot, but at the same time, they made that game really, really hard.
“So hopefully we can build on that. You mentioned last year. You’re right; I didn’t think we were in a great place going into the NCAA Tournament. I don’t think it was so much because we lost to Saint Joe’s. I just didn’t think as a team we were as connected as we needed to be, and one of our best players was out in Melvin Johnson as he got hurt up here. One of our best players was out this year, but hopefully we are more united around each other, and hopefully we can go do some damage.
“I’m really excited to see what the Atlantic 10 is going to do here in the NCAA Tournament, because obviously the league has a great history of success in the NCAA Tournament, and there are some very, very dangerous teams in our conference.”
Q. Do you feel like you possibly played your best basketball of your career in this tournament?
MO ALIE-COX: “I guess you could say that. I played real good when I was in Brooklyn last year, also. So I just tried to build on that. And coming into this week, Coach was telling me he’s going to give me the ball a lot and he always tells me I’m one of the best players in the conference. So I just try to come in here and play like this.”
Q. You guys faced a lot of doubters since Briante (Weber) went down. How do you keep proving everybody wrong and how are you going to try to do that in March Madness?
TREVEON GRAHAM: “We have to believe in ourselves. We can’t worry about what other people think. We all believe in each other and everybody has to step up. Mo, one of the strongest people in the country and everybody knows it; Melvin, one of the best shooters; JeQuan, one of the fastest guards in the country. We believe in each other and we just have to play ball and play VCU way. If we do that, it’s hard to beat us.”
Q. Tradition has it that usually the coach cuts the last piece of the net. When did they tell you you were going to do it, and what did that feel like?
BRIANTE WEBER: When I went out, January 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?’ They told me it was going to be me, and I believed them. And now we get here today and I was the one cutting down the net, that made me very emotional.”
Q. What does it mean to be here now, rallying together for Bri (Weber)?
TREVEON GRAHAM: “It means a lot. We told Bri when he went down, we were going to do it for him. The rest of the season was for him. We dug down and everybody had to find themselves. JeQuan and Johnny had to step into their role. And coming into this tournament, Johnny really stepped up being a freshman, he really attacked and he really believed in himself and I think that really helped us and help JeQuan get to where he needed to be. Bri was always there for us, his enthusiasm, his energy is always there. It’s great to be here now.”