BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Fatigue eroded the ferocity of VCU’s attack on both ends of the court, and for the second straight year, the Rams fell in the Atlantic 10 championship game.
VCU forced just 12 turnovers and shot 36.9 percent from the field in its 65-61 loss to St. Joseph’s at the Barclays Center. The Hawks, by contrast, converted 46.2 percent of their field-goal attempts.
“I think [fatigue] was showing,” head coach Shaka Smart said, “but you still have to get stops when you need them and you still have to put the ball in the basket when you get opportunities.”
Senior forward Juvonte Reddic missed a fast-break dunk on VCU’s second possession, setting a theme for the Rams’ offense.
“To be honest, we chart the quality of our shots that we get, and it was pretty high today. We got pretty good shots,” Smart said. “We didn’t make enough of the relatively good shots that we had. We only had five turnovers, which is great. We just didn’t put enough away.”
The Rams smothered Richmond and George Washington with their patented Havoc defense, breaking out in transition off turnovers and enervating their opponents to reach the title game. A different story unfolded today.
“We pressed every time we scored,” Smart said. “The problem was we only scored 24 [field goals]. We only had 11 field-goal makes in the first half. We don’t press after misses…We didn’t put the ball in the basket enough to get in our press as much as we wanted to.”
Near the midway point of the second half, though, VCU seemed primed to prolong Phil Martelli’s A-10 title drought to 17 years. With 15:38 left on the clock, senior guard Rob Brandenberg nailed a 3-pointer to spark a 16-7 run that would put VCU ahead, 48-42, five minutes later.
The Rams were forcing turnovers and capitalizing at the other end. Fatigue, it appeared, had finally dug its teeth into the Hawks’ legs. But while Martelli played five players the entire second half — seniors Langston Galloway and Halil Kanacevic didn’t receive a breather all game — he at least fielded a veteran group.
Freshman forward DeAndre Bembry quelled VCU’s run with a layup, and Kanacevic added a pair of jumpers on the following two possessions to erase the deficit.
Later, it was Galloway who broke the game’s final tie with a 3-pointer at the 2:28 mark. Galloway also converted each of his four foul shots in the final minute to preserve the win for St. Joe’s.
“Coach and this team, they put a lot of trust in me to take the big shot, and I just wanted to step up for my team,” said Galloway, who finished with a game-high 19 points.
Galloway’s clutch play enabled St. Joseph’s to pop its bubble with an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
VCU will also hear its name called this evening, and Brandenburg knows he and his fellow seniors, especially, need to move on from this loss and keep the team morale high.
“I was just telling Juvonte, Tre [Graham], ‘Let it hurt, but we can’t be down too long because we’ve got some games — we’ve got to play this week in the NCAA tournament,’” Brandenberg said. “I’ll use this as motivation.”