Saint Louis beats VCU to win Atlantic 10 tournament
Kwamain Mitchell scored 19 points, including a huge 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down, and tournament MVP Dwayne Evans added 16 to lead No. 16 Saint Louis to its first Atlantic 10 tourney title with a 62-56 win over No. 25 VCU on Sunday.
The veteran Billikens stayed just poised enough against the Rams' frenetic defensive pressure and a hostile crowd to win only the second conference tournament crown in school history.
Top-seeded Saint Louis (27-6) led 45-32 with less than 12 minutes left, and VCU was in all sorts of foul trouble. But the second-seeded Rams can erase a deficit as quickly as any team in the country, and VCU was within a point three minutes later.
Cody Ellis hit a 3-pointer on the Billikens' next possession, then made another clutch 3 for a 57-51 lead with more than two minutes left.
Treveon Graham led VCU (26-8) with 20 points.
Saint Louis had been the best team in the Atlantic 10 all season, led by eight juniors and seniors and an interim coach in Jim Crews.
Coach Rick Majerus died in December after being hospitalized for several months, and fans chanted his name as the players celebrated the title.
VCU missed its first six 3-point attempts, and the Rams struggled through two scoring droughts of more than five minutes in the first half.
When they don't score, they can't set up their press, and Saint Louis didn't commit a turnover for a 16-minute stretch spanning both halves.
But with VCU down 13, Graham hit a 3, just the Rams' second of the day, to spark a trademark VCU run. Rob Brandenberg turned a turnover into a three-point play in transition, then Briante Weber dished to Juvonte Reddic for a basket in the paint.
When Melvin Johnson, a freshman from the Bronx, made a jumper to pull the Rams within four, he pumped his fist and the crowd erupted as Saint Louis called a timeout.
It did little to calm the Billikens. Saint Louis broke the press but was still visibly flustered, and Mike McCall threw the ball to no one.
Saint Louis committed another turnover on its next possession, and Reddic's dunk in transition pulled VCU within 46-45 with less than nine minutes left.
Ellis calmly drained an open 3-pointer after Johnson fell down on defense. He drilled another jumper after Graham's 3 again drew the Rams within a point.
Mitchell made a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down to give Saint Louis a 54-48 lead with more than four minutes left.
VCU still wasn't done. With the Rams trailing 54-51, Brandenberg missed an open 3-pointer from the same spot in the corner where he made a much tougher one to all but clinch Saturday's win over UMass.
There were plenty of empty seats at the Barclays Center in the A-10's first season in Brooklyn. But many who were there wore black and gold, including famous New York City basketball fan Spike Lee, who attended all three of VCU's games and was wearing a Rams jersey Sunday.
And when VCU went on its run, it had the place rocking, even booing Saint Louis cheerleaders.
The Rams were in their first season in the A-10 after winning the Colonial Athletic Association conference tournament title last year.
Saint Louis, also a relative newcomer, was making its first appearance in the A-10 title game after joining in 2005-06. Its only previous conference tournament crown came in 2000 in Conference USA.