By Howard Goldin
Brooklyn, NY—The 5th seeded VCU Rams (26-9) defeated the Dayton Flyers (25-8) in the championship final, 71-67, on Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The Rams reached the tournament final in all three of their seasons in the Atlantic-10, but prevented becoming three time losers with the victory on Sunday. The Rams played in a conference championship for the fifth straight year as they were in the final in their last two seasons in the CAA.
The game was quite competitive during the early minutes. VCU inched to a 12-7 lead, which was followed by 11 unanswered points being scored by Dayton to achieve its game high lead of six, 18-12, at 8:12. Strangely that run by the Flyers was followed by 10 straight points scored by the Rams to re-take the lead, 22-21, with five minutes remaining in the first half. The first half ended with VCU ahead by a score of 33-26.
Treveon Graham, in his senior year at VCU, is the leading scorer on the team and has risen near the top of career totals of his school in many categories. He paced all players in the contest in the first half in points, 10, rebounds, 6, and assists, 4. He would not relax his efforts in the second half.
The Rams increased its lead to a game high 11 points early in the second half, but the Flyers chipped away until a basket by Dyshawn Pierre at 11:43 knotted the score at 43. VCU regained the advantage again until a three by Pierre tied the contest at 55 with 3:06 on the clock. The teams traded scores to tie at 57 and 59. The suspense was finally ended by a three pointer by freshman Terry Larrimer of the Bronx which game the Rams a 65-60 advantage with less than one minute to play. The exciting and hard fought series of 13 games during the five days at Barclays concluded with a 71-65 victory for the champion Rams.
Coach Archie Miller of Dayton spoke of threes as being the difference in the result, “But to me, the 2 for 12 from the three, that is probably the difference in the game.” VCU’s shooters netted 10 threes of 27 attempts.
The 10 offensive rebounds of the Ram raised their total to 54 in the four games at Barclays. Their bench scored 13 points to zero for Dayton.
VCU’s coach Shaka Smart summed up the closeness of the two teams in the final, “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 [Dayton] are a championship-caliber team.”
Smart also gave credit to his team’s fans for traveling to Brooklyn to show their support. To many neutral observers it appeared the Rams were representing Brooklyn and not Richmond. They respond well to the cheers as VCU has a 10-3 mark at Barclays in the past three seasons.
Smart’s record of success should also be pointed out. The win over Dayton was the 163rd in his first six seasons as a head coach. He is now tied with Jamie Dixon for second place behind Brad Stevens of Butler with 166. The Rams have won at least 26 games in each of those six years, which equals only the record of Duke.
Graham, who scored 20 and grabbed 13 boards in his team’s victory, was selected as MVP of the Championship. His teammate, Mo Alie-Cox, Jordan Sibert and Kendall Pollard of Dayton and Tyler Kalinoski of Davidson were the other members of the All-Championship Team.
Scoochie Smith, a Bronx native, led the Flyers with 16 points, 12 in the second half. Miller praised his floor leader, “He’s turned into a terrific player…Scooch was really, really responsible in a big way how we had some success.”
Both fine clubs will now rest and then prepare for the NCAA National Tournament as March Madness will move to other arenas throughout the nation.