BROOKLYN, N.Y. – For the first time in recent memory, VCU was finally able to play in a conference title game without the pressures of having to win in order to receive an invite to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Leading up to the Rams 62-56 loss to Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10 championship game Sunday afternoon, they built a resume strong enough to ensure the likelihood of an at-large bid to the Big Dance.
VCU will head to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year and will face Akron on Thursday in Auburn Hills, Mich.
A trip to the tournament looming is obviously a nice feeling, but for the moment, it was hardly any consolation for a VCU team that set a goal before the season started to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
“That’s about the only positive thing that you can bring out of the situation,” VCU point guard Darius Theus said. “We did battle through all season, so we already had that bid and stuff for us to be in the tournament.
“But we really wanted this one bad. But still, that’s a positive out of the situation.”
The opportunities were there for VCU against Saint Louis. The Rams turned a 13-point deficit into a one-possession game with nine minutes left in the second half. But poor shooting would ultimately be their downfall.
Troy Daniels hit 10 3-pointers over the first two games, which was sixth most in Atlantic 10 Tournament history, but was limited all game with foul trouble and missed all five of his shot-attempts. It marked the first time in 44 games Daniels had been held without a 3-pointer.
VCU lacked its regular third scoring option, which was ultimately due to its poor shooting. The Rams shot a tournament-worst 19-for-56 from the floor and 3-of-18 from long range.
“They weren’t really falling for us tonight,” Treveon Graham said. “The shots that we normally make weren’t falling for us.”
They forced St. Louis into 18 turnovers, 10 more than in the first meeting between the two teams back in February. It was the first time this season VCU lost when turning an opponent over 15 or more times.
It was that type of night.
Darius Theus’ eyes were red and saddened for a senior with so much left to play for. He knew he and his teammates let one slip away.
Winning a championship in a new league is a rare feat in today’s college basketball, but VCU was close.
The Rams meet a favorable match in an Akron team without its starting point guard. They have the talent, coaching and defense to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
But for one day in Brooklyn, against a promising Saint Louis team, it wasn’t good enough. And neither was the outcome.