The VCU Rams fell inches short of an Atlantic 10 conference tournament title on Sunday in Pittsburgh in a 70-63 loss at the hands of the University of Rhode Island.
The Black and Gold never led in the contest, as URI built an early double-digit lead on five of six shooting from beyond the arc in the first 10 minutes. The Rams from Richmond battled their tails off against the Rams from up north, outscoring them 36-30 in the second half and pulling within as little as three points, but were never able to climb all the way back.
“We’re tough to kill,” said VCU head coach Will Wade. “We fought back, just couldn’t get over the hump.”
“If you beat VCU in the conference tournament final, you earned that trophy,” said Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley. “That’s an elite program with one of the best young coaches in the country.”
A Rhode Island hot hand in the first half led to 51 percent shooting from the field, compared to VCU’s meager 23 percent. Lock-in defense from the Black and Gold held URI to only 28 percent shooting in the second.
“We didn’t communicate well on defense early, and that allowed them to knock down some threes and get comfortable,” Lewis said. “When we realized we had to play catch-up that’s when we turned it on. But you have to play 40 minutes to win a championship.”
Rhody junior guard Jared Terrell led all players in scoring with 20 points, and senior guard E.C. Matthews chipped in 19. Matthews was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. The lefty slasher is a feel good success story after missing all of last season with a ghastly knee injury.
VCU senior guard JeQuan Lewis led his Rams in scoring with 15 points on a sub-par 5 of 14 shooting. Junior forward Justin Tillman was a monster in the paint — he recorded a game-high 17 rebounds.
The Black and Gold out muscled Rhode Island on the glass, recording 47 rebounds compared to their 36. Unfortunately for Wade and his Rams, 23 offensive rebounds led to a mere 14 second-chance points.
“Twenty-three offensive rebounds looks great on paper,” Wade said. “But that’s a lot of misses. Give Rhode Island credit. They took it to us in the first half. Now it’s on to the big show — let’s see if we can go and make some noise.”
Lewis was named to the all-tournament team alongside Matthews, Davidson University’s Jack Gibbs, George Mason University’s Marquise Moore and URI’s Hassan Martin.
VCU is a projected 8/9 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Rhode Island’s automatic bid gives the Atlantic Ten three teams in the big dance, as the University of Dayton is also projected to receive an at-large bid in the 8/9 seed range.
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