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VCU holds off Davidson rally in Atlantic 10 semifinals

VCU guard JeQuan Lewis reacts as his team

VCU guard JeQuan Lewis reacts as his team takes the lead in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament in New York, Saturday, March 14, 2015. Credit: AP / John Minchillo

Davidson looked up from the bottom of an 18-point hole in the first half Friday and clawed all the way out, escaping with a buzzer-beating win. Now here were Bob McKillop's top-seeded Wildcats clawing their way up again, this time from a 22-point deficit with 15:19 to play in their Atlantic 10 semifinal.

Suddenly No. 5-seed VCU's lead had shrunk to five with an eternity to go, 10:22 showing on the clock. But it didn't permit Davidson to finish the climb, as La Salle had allowed in the quarterfinals.

VCU ended up showing the Wildcats the tournament exit at Barclays Center on Saturday, ending their 10-game winning streak. The Rams emerged with a 93-73 victory behind 18 points apiece from Treveon Graham and Mo Alie-Cox.

"It says a lot about our guys that they were able to come out and beat them today," VCU coach Shaka Smart said.

VCU is sitting at 25-9 despite losing senior point guard Briante Weber to a knee problem on Jan. 31. The Rams still made the A-10 final for the third straight year since moving from the Colonial Athletic Association. They fell in those last two title games. Now they will try again to punch the automatic NCAA ticket at 1 p.m. Sunday against No. 2-seed Dayton, a 56-52 winner over Rhode Island in the other semifinal.

" . . . We're not dwelling on those two years," Smart said. "We came up here to try to win four games. We just want to go 1-0 in the current game."

McKillop, a former Holy Trinity and Long Island Lutheran coach, will probably be in the NCAA Tournament for the eighth time in his 26 years at Davidson. His 24-7 team had been picked for 12th in the A-10 preseason poll after departing the Southern Conference, then finished first in the regular season.

"You feel like you are in a majestic theater on Broadway," McKillop said of the A-10. "I think that elevates your energy.

"We have a body of work that's pretty impressive."

With 15:19 to play, the Wildcats trailed 55-33. It looked hopeless. And then it didn't.

They scored the next 16 points, including two threes by Tyler Kalinoski, who scored 19, and a three-pointer and a three-point play by Brian Sullivan to make it 55-49 with 11:32 to play. Soon Kalinoski drilled another three, and it was down to 57-52 with 10:22 left.

So what was Sullivan thinking? "We're going to win," the junior guard said.

But the Rams showed their resolve, scoring the next 10, including a dunk and two free throws by Alie-Cox and a three from the left side by Graham.

The final result was a marked contrast to VCU's game at Davidson nine days prior -- an 82-55 Wildcats win.

"It was real humiliating when we were down there," Graham said, admitting that it provided some extra incentive.

Still, Davidson grabbed a 16-4 lead. Then VCU went on a 40-12 distance run to close the first half with a 44-28 lead.

"We have a drill in practice called 'Poise or Panic,' " Alie-Cox said. "It pretty much gets us ready for game situations like that when we go down, how we're going to respond and come back."


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