A well-rounded stat sheet, a dominant 14-6 overtime period and some timely senior leadership propelled VCU to its fifth consecutive Atlantic 10 championship after a heart-stopping 87-77 win over the University of Richmond at PPG Paints Arena.
VCU’s scoring depth lead the Black and Gold to victory — the Rams posted 35 bench points, compared to Richmond’s meager two. All five UofR starters finished in double figures, while three of VCU’s starters reached the mark.
Senior guard JeQuan Lewis lead the Rams in scoring with 18, followed closely by redshirt-freshman guard Samir Doughty (17), redshirt-senior forward Mo Alie-Cox (15) and junior forward Justin Tillman (11). Nine of ten VCU players who recorded minutes scored in the contest.
“We outrebounded them and scored 56 points in the paint,” said coach Will Wade. “That’s our formula. We made some plays when we needed to.”
Richmond freshman guard De’Monte Buckingham was nothing short of sensational — he lead all scorers with 26 and went 9-14 from the field.
The Rams found themselves in dire straights at the end of regulation. Richmond’s freshman guard Nick Sherod hit a corner-three with 25 seconds left to give the Spiders a three-point-lead.
When all seemed lost, coach Wade and the Rams looked to their senior leader, and asked the world of him — Lewis delivered.
The first-team all-conference guard rose up from the wing and tied the game after running a curl off a screen in the post. Junior guard Jonathan Williams fed him right in the shooting pocket on a play Wade said the Rams run frequently. Williams led all players in assists with seven.
“I had shooting in my mind before the play even started,” Lewis said. “We practice that play a lot.”
On the final possession of regulation, Richmond senior guard ShawnDre’ Jones had a chance to give his Spiders the win. UofR got the switch they wanted, with Alie-Cox matched up against Jones on the perimeter. The VCU forward showed off his versatility by forcing a fade-away, contested jump shot that went begging.
“A team that forces overtime wins 72 percent of the time,” Wade said. “They were going to have hit a crazy shot in regulation to beat us — and they didn’t.”
“Mo helps us so much defensively. How many other fives can switch off defensively onto a guard and just bottle him up and make him shoot an 18 foot, contested fadeaway jump shot? He’s a freak of nature, that’s why he’s going to be playing in the NFL or whatever he’s going to do.”
Doughty, who was recently relegated to a six-man role after starting for much of the season, was a catalyst for the Black and Gold. Doughty’s ability to get to the rim was key for a VCU team that — according to Wade — settled for too many jump shots in the second half.
“We took so many pull-up jumpers in the second half, I was so mad,” Wade said. “Samir’s instinct is to put his head down and drive the ball. We needed that mentality today.”
“Samir is a great player and scorer, we need that from him,” Lewis said. “He’s scrappy.”
The Rams will face the University of Rhode Island Rams tomorrow in the Atlantic Ten tournament championship. Tip-off is scheduled for 12:30 on CBS. The last time the Rams played each other, Rhode Island out muscled VCU and won by a final of 69-59 up north. RI did not visit the Siegel Center this year.
“It’s gonna be up and down. It’s gonna be physical,” Lewis said. “We have good guards, they have good guards. We have good post players, they have good post players.”
“They obliterated us on the glass,” Wade said. “We weren’t strong in the paint. They’re the one team in the league that’s as physical as we are.”
One thing is for certain — this time tomorrow, the Rams will be the 2017 Atlantic 10 tournament champions.
Sophia is a junior journalism major pursuing a minor in gender, sexuality and women’s studies. She enjoys writing about current events and sports, and hopes to one day be a sports reporter covering soccer, basketball and/or baseball. You can usually find Sophia drinking way too much coffee and laughing at her own jokes.
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Zach is a junior pursuing a dual degree in print journalism and English. A proud Norfolk-ian, he enjoys long walks on the beach, English literature of the romantic period and anything pertaining to Harry Potter or baseball. Zach is an avid Red Sox and Patriots fan who can usually be found working at the Student Media Center or running along the James.
Erin Edgerton, Staff Photographer