NEW YORK (AP) - VCU has reached the Atlantic 10 tournament final in both seasons since moving up from the Colonial Athletic Association, an impressive achievement.
It still hurts to come that close to a title and lose.
The 23rd-ranked Rams fell 65-61 to Saint Joseph’s on Sunday. Langston Galloway put the fourth-seeded Hawks (24-9) ahead for good with a 3-pointer with more than two minutes left.
Without the injured Melvin Johnson, second-seeded VCU shot just 5 of 19 on 3-pointers. And the Rams (26-8) couldn’t finish several high-percentage attempts much closer to the rim, including a dunk and layup in transition.
“We didn’t put enough of them away when we had good looks,” coach Shaka Smart said.
Johnson, the A-10 sixth man of the year, hurt his left knee Saturday and is scheduled for an MRI back in Richmond on Monday. He hobbled onto the court before the game on crutches. Draped from his neck was the thick chain VCU is using as a symbol of Smart’s message that the team is only as strong as its weakest link.
Galloway scored 19 points Sunday and broke a 54-54 tie with his step-back 3 over Rob Brandenberg, who led the Rams with 18 points.
“I played the drive,” Brandenberg said. “He stepped back, made a tough shot.”
Briante Weber missed a 3 on the other end, and the Hawks broke down the Rams’ pressure for Ronald Roberts’ dunk on a pass from DeAndre Bembry for a 59-54 lead.
In their third game in three days, Galloway and Halil Kanacevic played all 40 minutes against VCU’s pressing “Havoc” defense.
“Those guys are tough guys,” Smart said. “As seniors, they stepped up.”
Kanacevic won tournament MVP honors after setting a tournament record with 43 rebounds in three games.
“We could go play another 40 if I got to feel this way again,” Kanacevic said after cutting down the nets.
All five starters played at least 37 minutes - including the entire second half. Coach Phil Martelli made a note to himself before the game to get his subs some time in the first, but when they struggled in brief action, he knew riding his regulars gave Saint Joseph’s its best chance to win a championship.
Roberts, the Hawks’ third senior starter, had 15 points on 6-of-6 shooting and 11 rebounds.
Treveon Graham added 15 points and nine rebounds for VCU but was just 2 of 7 on 3-pointers.
Rams fans filled the stands at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center for the second straight year, again joined by Spike Lee. But in the hostile environment, Saint Joseph’s stayed poised against the press in the second half, committing just four turnovers. Weber, the nation’s steals leader, didn’t have any in this game, the first time all season that’s happened.
Still, the Rams head into the NCAA tournament playing well, winners of six of their last seven. Weber has been more of a force on offense lately, with redshirt freshman Mo Alie-Cox more disruptive on the inside.
“This is a point we can grow from,” Smart said.
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