Coach Shaka Smart won his 137th game on Saturday breaking the all-time record at VCU while leading the Rams to their 4th consecutive conference tournament championship game.
Despite losing Melvin Johnson to injury early in the first half, Virginia Commonwealth University stormed past George Washington University 74-55 in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament Saturday in the Barclay’s Center. With the victory, Coach Shaka Smart passed Sonny Smith to become VCU’s winningest coach with 137 victories.
The first half was much closer than the final margin suggests. George Washington attacked the rim early and Isaiah Armwood and Kevin Larsen scored with ease while the 1-3-1 zone that rattled the Rams in their January loss to the Colonials disrupted VCU’s offense.
Early in the half, starting shooting guard Melvin Johnson awkwardly made contact with a GW player while diving after a ball. He was immediately in pain, was taken to the locker room, and returned in the second half with a cast on his leg.
Senior Nemanja Mikic who finished with 12 points went 3-of-4 from 3-point range and kept GW ahead most of the first half but Rob Brandenberg had other plans. He hit a shot-clock beating 3-pointer late in the second half before hitting a buzzer beating 3-pointer to give VCU a 33-31 lead heading into the locker room.
In the second half, the 1-3-1 zone immediately looked less effective and VCU shut down George Washington’s front court. Larsen and Armwood who scored 18 points in the first half on 8-of-11 shooting scored 7 points in the second half on 2-of-6 shooting.
Suddenly VCU was able to unleash a barrage of 3-pointers. After struggling from range before the Brandenberg outburst, VCU went 5-of-9 from 3-point range in the second half. With 5:37 remaining, Mo Alie-Cox blocked a shot which turned into a Treveon Graham 3-pointer giving the Rams a 9-point lead. VCU finished the game on a 21-5 run.
Treveon Graham tallied an impressive 22 points on 4-of-5 shooting from 2-point range and 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range. His ability to drive the lane and play a two-man game with Briante Weber helped him get open looks from range and dish out assists.
For the second time this weekend, Mo Alie-Cox asserted himself in the second half. He finished with 8 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a steal in only 17 minutes of action. His presence is tiring to opponents and clearly affects the psyche of players attacking the rim. Expect him to play plenty of minutes tomorrow.
For the fourth consecutive year, Coach Shaka Smart and HAVOC! will play in a conference tournament championship game. The Rams fell short against ODU in 2011, beat Drexel in 2012, and lost to Saint Louis last season.
Since leaving the CAA, the importance of winning the tournament to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament has diminished but there is little doubt that Coach Smart has his teams ready to play in March.
Top performer: Briante Weber
16 points (4-10 2PFG, 1-1 3PFG), 8 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals
Briante Weber’s fantastic weekend continued on Saturday with another dominant performance on both ends of the court. Defensively he wore down GW’s shorthanded backcourt. Offensively he scored frequently using midrange jumpers and found open shooters in the 2nd half.
2/3rds of the way through the weekend, Weber is putting together a solid campaign for most outstanding player. He has 34 points (12-19 2PFG, 2-2 3PFG), 9 rebounds, 10 assists, and 4 steals. If he brings the same intensity and efficiency to the Championship game, the Rams will have an excellent shot at cutting down the nets.
- Rob Brandenberg has 4 turnovers in his last 318 minutes of gameplay.
- Coach Smart is now 28-7 in the month of March.
- GW outscored VCU 16-7 on the fast break.
- Jordan Burgess struggled from the field but tallied a career high 4 steals.
- It took Sonny Smith 262 games to reach 136 wins. It took Shaka Smart 181 games.
#2 VCU will take on #4 Saint Joseph’s in the Championship game at 1:00 PM on Sunday on CBS.
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- What to expect: George Washington vs. VCU…round 3
- What to expect: VCU visits GWU in an A-10 bellwether battle
- Recap: GW exploits VCU’s weaknesses and puts A-10 on notice
- What to expect: If you ain’t first, you’re still not last
- Recap: VCU beats the snow and GW
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