VCU turns up defense on Dayton to claim Atlantic 10 title
Sitting at the podium, Brandon Johns Jr. could have been satisfied. After all, he and his teammates were wearing the hats and T-shirts awarded to championship-winning teams.
He was not.
Instead, in a matter-of-fact voice, he uttered a warning to 67 other programs:
“We,” Johns Jr. said after Virginia Commonwealth’s 68-56 win over Dayton in the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship game Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center, “have more stuff to do.”
Along with winning the program’s second A-10 championship, the top-seeded Rams clinched the conference’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. It will be VCU’s 19th appearance all-time in the tournament.
Adrian Baldwin Jr. led VCU with 16 points. Jalen DeLoach and Jamir Watkins each finished with 13 points.
And it was fully earned as VCU outscored Dayton 38-20 in the second half, despite the game being a possession-by-possession contest instead of an up-tempo affair.
After DaRon Holmes II’s awkward, buzzer-beating three with 10:12 remaining gave Dayton a 50-49 lead, the Rams went on a 17-6 run in a span of eight minutes and 11 seconds to take control of the game.
The biggest shot in that stretch was Watkins’ three-pointer that extended VCU’s lead to 63-56.
“It felt good,” Watkins said.
Until VCU’s tournament-clinching run, Dayton did not deviate from the offensive game plan that allowed the Flyers to beat Fordham in Saturday’s second semifinal game, 78-68: Get the ball to Holmes II and Mustapha Amzil as often as possible.
Holmes II recorded a double-double (28 points and 16 rebounds) and Amzil finished with 17.
The Flyers led the Rams 36-30 at halftime, and the duo played a significant role in building the lead. Amzil (15 points) and Holmes (14 points) totaled 29 of the Flyers’ 36 first-half points.
VCU used a 14-7 spurt over the opening 5:34 of the second half to take a 44-43 lead. But Holmes responded with a jumper with 13:56 left that allowed Dayton to regain the lead, 45-44. His three a few minutes later, which gave the Flyers a 50-49 lead, was Dayton’s last made field goal, as well as its last lead of the game.
“About the 10-minute mark we just got tougher,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades said. “We just got a little bit tougher and [we started] defending better at the rim.”
The Rams limited the Flyers to 20% shooting overall from the field in the second half (6-for-30) and 7.7% from three (1-for-13).
“They did a really good job of executing their game plan in the second half,” Holmes said. “We just couldn’t fix it.”
The matinee was the rubber match between the A-10 powers. During the regular season each team won on the other’s home court. On Jan. 13, VCU got a 63-62 win only for Dayton to return the favor on Feb. 7 by walking away with a 62-58 decision.
Watkins, Baldwin, Holmes, Toumani Camara (Dayton), Elmont’s Khalid Moore (Fordham) and Eric Reynolds II (Saint Joseph’s) were named to the All-Tournament team. Holmes was selected as the tournament’s most outstanding player.