NEW YORK -- VCU built a big lead with its fast-paced, aggressive style -- and nearly lost it that way.
The 25th-ranked Rams held off a frantic Saint Joseph's rally for an 82-79 win in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament on Friday night. Treveon Graham scored 17 points, one of five players in double figures."It's just what we do. We're not very good when we're not aggressive," coach Shaka Smart said.VCU (25-7) made 11 of its first 21 3-point attempts to go up by 17 with just more than eight minutes left. Then the second-seeded Rams kept taking 3-pointers early in the shot clock and missed their last seven."That's just going out there playing loose," senior Troy Daniels said. "If we're up 13, we still have to play our basketball. We can't just play tentative."Down 15 with less than two minutes remaining, the 10th-seeded Hawks nearly came all the way back. Saint Joseph's (18-13) pulled within 80-76 with 9.1 seconds to go, but Darius Theus found an open Briante Weber downcourt for an emphatic slam to cap the victory.Theus had 12 points and six assists, making all five of his field-goal attempts. Melvin Johnson, a freshman from the Bronx, scored 12 in his homecoming as VCU's bench players were pressed into big minutes because of foul trouble.Carl Jones scored 29 points and Langston Galloway had 25 for the Hawks."I compliment my team. We asked them to play 40 minutes, and they played a full 40 minutes," coach Phil Martelli said. "But you get a scholarship to play hard. You have to play well, and I don't think we played particularly well for long stretches of this game."The Rams left behind the home-court advantage of playing their conference tournament in Richmond when they departed the Colonial Athletic Association for the A-10 this season. Not that anyone could tell Friday, with a large contingent of fans in black and gold roaring every time VCU forced a turnover or drained a 3-pointer.Also in the crowd at Brooklyn's Barclays Center was noted New York City basketball fan Spike Lee.VCU scored seven straight points in less than a minute-and-a-half to break open the game midway through the second half. Halil Kanacevic, who was also in the middle of some chippy moments in the first half, appeared to have a potential three-point play to pull the Hawks within five.Instead, he was called for a flagrant foul after his elbow smacked Graham in the jaw as the Saint Joseph's forward drove to the basket. Graham made both free throws, then Daniels hit a 3 for a five-point possession. When Theus blew past Jones for an uncontested layup, VCU was suddenly up 58-43."We messed up on a couple assignments," Galloway said. "They got free; they hit jumpers when they needed to. That was the difference in the game."The Rams forced 17 turnovers and converted them into 25 points. Weber made five steals to set the school single-season record with 91.Daniels, who came in having made 107 3-pointers this season, missed four attempts from behind the arc in the final seven minutes. No one will convince Smart those are bad shots."I'm taking that. Now maybe conventional wisdom says otherwise," Smart said. "But I take my chances with that."