- Associated Press - Saturday, April 2, 2011

RICHMOND (AP) - Thousands of rowdy fans chanting “VCU! VCU!” streamed onto city streets Saturday after Virginia Commonwealth University’s remarkable season came to an end, torching trash cans and newspaper boxes and tossing firecrackers.

Police in riot gear steadily pushed back a knot of thousands of students who had gathered in the middle of Broad Street, the busy main thoroughfare through the urban campus at downtown Richmond’s edge, and lobbed a tear gas-like substance to move students away. Many fled, some holding bandannas, surgical masks and in one instance a gas mask to their faces.

“I thought this might be appropriate tonight,” said one woman who ran by with a gas mask clutched to her glittered-speckled face.

Police could not immediately be reached to say if any students had been arrested or injured.

Several thousand students watched VCU’s inspirational season come to a close in the Siegel Center as the team lost to Butler, 70-62. As the seconds ticked away, they stood and cheered on the team’s improbable run to the Final Four.

“Give your players, your VCU players, some love,” a speaker encouraged the crowd to loud cheers.

Fans peacefully left the athletic center, some posing with police with plastic shields and protective gear.

“We still love you Rams,” shouted one group of students posing for TV cameras.

Within minutes, however, the crowd gathered around the median of Broad Street and Roman candles sputtered into the night sky, fireworkers were tossed in the crowd, and plastic trash cans were set on fire within the center of the throng. Some students were held aloft. Students from rooftops and apartments looked down on the crowd, occasionally tossing rolls of toilet paper and paper cups down below.

Police formed a line with their shields, moving down Broad Street in an attempt to push the students a few blocks away to Monroe Park, a small green area on the inner city campus where a postgame celebration was planned. When they didn’t move, an eye-stinging, tear gas-like substance was apparently used on the crowd.

Hundreds of students ran, sending some stumbling to the ground, but returned when the crowd cleared. Police helicopters overhead shined spotlights on the crowd, attempting apparently to direct students to the park. Police on horseback also attempted to guide the crowd.

The rowdier elements seemed to be limited to a few hundred persistent people, with many hundreds more watching from the sidewalks, bar windows and side streets.

Every fan who was asked was thrilled by VCU’s season, despite the loss.

VCU is a winner,” said Preston Dickerson, who stood at the fringe of hooting and hollering fans.

“I’m still proud of my boys, 100 percent,” said Kara Webber.

“It’s like we’re still real proud of them,” said Weston Lowe, a sophomore.

“It’s a Cinderella story,” his pal, Zach Donatelli, said.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell issued a statement praising VCU’s “historic run.”

“It was a streak that will live forever in the annals of NCAA history,” McDonnell said. “Congratulations VCU, for this incredible tournament, and for making all Virginians ‘Rams’ over the past few weeks.”