VCU survived and advanced in its inaugural Atlantic 10 tournament game, but it was some red-hot shooting -- more than its trademark defense -- that keyed the victory.
Now the 25th-ranked Rams look to punch a ticket to their first A-10 title game in Brooklyn on Saturday when they take on sixth-seeded Massachusetts in the semifinals.Treveon Graham helped the Rams get to the semifinals with 17 points and 3-of-5 shooting from 3-point range in an 82-79 quarterfinal victory over Saint Joseph's on Friday. The Rams led 58-43 midway through the second half before surviving a furious late rally by the Hawks."It's a hard fought game," VCU coach Shaka Smart said. "St.Joe's, give them lot of credit. They really battled in the second half. They came at us, shot the ball extremely well, made 3s."Troy Daniels contributed 14 points -- missing 9 of 13 from beyond the arc -- as VCU (25-7) shot 50.0 percent overall and connected on 11 for 28 from long range."We shot 50 percent, but we did miss a lot of easy shots, open looks," Smart said. "We'll make those as we go. It's good to survive and advance."The Rams have hit 35.5 percent from long distance on the season, but are heating up from 3-point range lately. They've made 34 of 77 (44.2 percent) over their last four games.VCU outscored Massachusetts by 23 in the second half en route to an 86-68 home victory on Feb. 14.The Minutemen (21-10), however, are feeling good heading into this meeting after snapping third-seeded Temple's seven-game winning streak with a 79-74 upset win in the quarters on Friday.Chaz Williams was superb playing in his hometown, scoring 28 points on 8 for 13 from the field and 10 of 10 from the free-throw line. Terrell Vinson added 15 points, including a 3-pointer in the final minute with the shot clock winding down and UMass clinging to a two-point lead.The 5-foot-9 Williams, the team's leading scorer at 15.4 per game, finished with a season low-tying six points on 1-of-7 shooting in the February loss to the Rams. However, he's averaging 21.3 points over his last three contests."Chaz Williams is one of the best players in the conference," Temple star Khalif Wyatt said. "He's relentless. He definitely leads this group. He was real tough down the stretch."If they're to knock off the Rams, the Minutemen will have to do a better job taking care of the basketball. Massachusetts committed a season-high 24 turnovers in the first meeting against a VCU defense that forces a nation-best 19.8 per game.The Rams turned 17 turnovers into 25 points on Friday, but they allowed Saint Joseph's to shoot 51.1 percent from the floor and 9 for 17 from beyond the arc. They've also given up 74.0 points on 50.5 percent shooting in their last six games.VCU will have to tighten things up against UMass, which has averaged 77.4 points over the last 11 games.Graham led the Rams with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting, while Melvin Johnson added 18 off the bench in the first meeting.Graham, averaging a team-high 15.7 points, has scored 18.3 per game while shooting 50.0 percent from the field in his last three.Massachusetts has dropped eight of nine against ranked opponents by an average of 13.0 points dating back to the 2008-09 season.The winner will move on to face either top-seeded Saint Louis or fifth-seeded Butler in Sunday's championship game.