Rams clinch regular season title

Basketball programs around the nation turn their greedy eyes toward Richmond as VCU coach Anthony Grant leads his team to a regular season championship.

inbound.jpgFans bid farewell to three seniors as the VCU Rams men’s basketball team played their final home game of the season on Wednesday night. And perhaps fans witnessed the last home game from head coach Anthony Grant as well.

“It was an emotional day,” said Grant after the game. “A senior day.”

VCU, first place in CAA division play, toppled second-placed UNC-Wilmington Seahawks 72-58 and clinched the top seed in the CAA tournament set for next weekend.

The game was initially much closer than the 14-point blowout would reveal. The Seahawks dominated the first half inside, limiting the Rams’ second-chances with only three offensive rebounds and forcing seven turnovers.

VCU was down by nine early, but baffled the Seahawks with an aggressive full-court press that caused three turnovers in the first 20 minutes. Point guard Eric Maynor led the Rams resurgence with a key 3-pointer with 1:11 left in the first half to give the Rams the lead and rallied the team and the crowd. The Seahawks limped into halftime with only two points in the final five minutes and down by one, 29-30.

Coach Grant attributed the Rams slow start to “a high level of excitement” around Senior Day. The Rams made key adjustments at halftime, after turning the ball over seven times in the first half and shooting 2-for-9 from 3-point range.

VCU exploded in the 2nd half, putting up 42 points in the period and never looking back. VCU extended their lead to as many as 16 points in the second half and never trailed. And those halftime adjustments? VCU only turned the ball over only three times in the 2nd half and hit an impressive seven 3-pointers in the final 20 minutes. Scoring was well balanced, as four of the Rams starters ended with double-digits.

net-cut-a.jpgThe team capped of the victory with a celebratory cutting of the nets, marking the regular-season championship. VCU clinched its second straight CAA regular-season title, guaranteeing the team a spot in the NIT. But the Rams are not settling for that.

“It’s nice for tonight,” freshman phenom Joey Rodriguez, who scored ten points and had 4-dishes, said of the regular-season title. “It’s a nice taste.” Certainly, the Rams are looking ahead to the CAA tournament, whose winner gets and automatic ticket to the Big Dance.

VCU is heading into tournament play on a roll. Wednesday’s win gives them 14 wins in the last 16 games, including 13 conference victories and a win over Akron in an ESPNU-televised “Bracket-Buster” match-up.

The final regular season game for VCU is this Saturday at William and Mary. The Rams begin CAA tournament play next Saturday, March 8th @ noon at the Richmond Coliseum. They face the winner of the 8/9 seed game that takes place on Friday at noon.

And what about Coach Grant? He made no mention of his future plans, but his name has to be high on the list of schools in the hunt for the next great college hoops coach. He was all-but-signed as head coach of Florida, until Billy Donavan backed-out of a deal with the NBA’s Orlando Magic and retained the Gators job.

Although Grant was signed to an extension last year guaranteeing him a contract through 2013 including a salary bump to $400,000 plus incentives, his name has already been mentioned regarding several job openings around the country. South Carolina and Louisiana State jobs are said to be his if he wants them. Another possibility: Indiana, who’s facing NCAA sanctions and difficulties following the contentious resignation of coach Kelvin Sampson. Grant could be considered as a leading candidate for the job as he played college ball in the Midwest for nearby University of Dayton.

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Sam Fetchero

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