Championship Sunday had finally arrived at PPG Paints Arena and featured a Battle of the Rams between #2 VCU and #4 Rhode Island. There was a prize fight in Pittsburgh as VCU and Rhody went back and forth for a shot at dancing in March Madness.
Rhody. From Everywhere.
Rhode Island got things started from all over the court. E.C. Matthews ignited the game with the opening 3 ball and from there Hassan Martin bullied his way into the paint. Jared Terrell added extra ammunition from downtown as Rhody came out the gate firing.
Mo Alie-Cox and Justin Tillman was ready for war on the glass. The two VCU big men were locked in and kept the Rams within striking distance thanks to 2nd chance buckets. VCU went on a cold run for nearly 2 minutes and Rhode Island struck once again from downtown.
As VCU went scoreless, Rhode Island was cashing in from downtown going 5-of-6 from three. Doug Brooks capitalized on a VCU three-pointer from the corner but URI stayed ahead 21-10 with 11:35 left.
Martin established his paint dominance as he soared to the basket and came back down with an emphatic slam. Brooks once again responded from downtown while VCU continued working on cutting down the deficit.
Physicality & Opportunity
Things got more physical as the game moved along. VCU and Rhody were scrapping for loose balls and rebounds nearly every possession. Rhode Island suddenly cooled off for 4 minutes without a field goal as Jordan Burgess led VCU on a possible comeback.
Matthews answered for URI with a 3 Ball. URI had some foul trouble late in the half as Kuran Iverson and Hassan Martin both picked up 2 fouls. Ahmed Hamdy and Jonathan Williams scored on the opportunity as VCU clawed their way back into the game.
The 1st half was an experience featuring Doug Brooks as the senior guard capped off 9 points in the 1st half leading VCU. Brooks ended the half with a 3 point play on a much needed And-1 chance with 29.3 left.
Jared Terrell had the last laugh with a URI layup just before the half came to a close. Rhode Island finished the half shooting 52% from the field while VCU shot 24%. VCU was winning the rebound war 26-21 but trailed on the scoreboard 40-27 at halftime.
Comeback In Process
As the 2nd half got underway, Rhode Island got into foul trouble quickly. Things started well for URI as Terrell knocked down a three-pointer, however, Iverson & Martin both got whistled for their 3rd foul early in the half.
Ahmed Hamdy took advantage from the free throw line as VCU got down to work. Justin Tillman got fans out of their seat with a monster one-handed slam on a rebound with an extra jolt. Samir Doughty added to the electricity from downtown cutting the deficit to 10 points.
JeQuan Lewis stepped his game up from the line and scored on a contested layup to put the Rams within 6. Rhode Island called timeout as Lewis let Ram fans know that VCU is still in this one at PPG Paints Arena.
More Foul Trouble for Rhody
Momentum quickly went back to URI as Terrell connected on an And-1 bucket. Iverson’s foul trouble continued with his 4th personal foul arriving with 11:23 left in the game. The tide turned once again as Justin Tillman went on a rebound collection spree while Lewis started a 6-0 VCU scoring run.
Coach Hurley for Rhode Island made an impact on the game as he was called for a technical foul. As Brooks was going for the loose ball, Hurley argued that Brooks ran into Matthews who was lying face down on the floor after the collision.
The officials gave Brooks the foul and also gave Coach Hurley the technical. Lewis stepped to the line and hit the FT to make it 54-49 URI with 7:55 left in the game.
Not Done Yet
Jarvis Garret got shaken up by a solid pick by Alie-Cox that led to Tillman and another thunderous jam. Garrett was able to get back up moments later and headed to the URI bench.
VCU kept fighting on the glass and the scoreboard. With time running down, Rhode Island started to go inconsistent on shot selection while the Black & Gold looked to counter. That counter came from Lewis as he once again kisses the glass on the layup to put VCU within three.
With a minute remaining, E.C. Matthews nailed a clutch URI layup. That was followed by Tillman scoring off the Lewis assist making it 66-63 with 34 seconds left. After Terrell scored twice at the free throw line, Rhode Island got a big steal off the VCU inbound and quickly called timeout.
A miracle comeback was not to be as Rhode Island held off VCU 70-63 to win the Atlantic 10 Championship and an automatic bid to March Madness. JeQuan Lewis led VCU with 15 points and Justin Tillman earned a double-double of 17 rebounds and 10 points.
Next up for VCU Men’s Basketball is Selection Sunday as the Rams tune into to see where VCU will be dancing in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.