Darius Theus scored 16 points and added five assists and five steals to give the Virginia Commonwealth Rams (18-6, 15-3 CAA) the CAA Tournament championship with a victory over the Drexel Dragons (27-6, 16-2 CAA) 59-56 at the Richmond Coliseum in Richmond, Virginia.
Rams guard Troy Daniels scored 11 points, and knocked down two free throws at the end to give VCU a three-point advantage with 11.9 seconds remaining. Treveon Graham added 13 off the bench to send VCU to the NCAA Tournament for the third year in a row.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, freshman Damion Lee played outstanding, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Lee played like an upperclassmen, finding answers to the suffocating VCU defense. Chris Fouch had his usual 15 points, along with sophomore sensation Frantz Massenat having 14 in the loss. Samme Givens was held to three points, but grabbed 15 rebounds.
Drexel trailed the Rams 35-19 at halftime. The Dragons accounted for 12 turnovers in that first half compared to VCU’s six. It felt like Samme Givens could not pass, Massenat couldn't dribble and that Shaka Smart out-coached Bruiser Flint.
DU came back from 16 points down from stellar defense and clutch shots from Lee and Massenat.
Still, the comeback was not enough, as VCU claims the CAA automatic bid and will go to the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.
After the game, Shaka Smart was obviously relieved.
“It was kind of cruel and unusual punishment last year, but that’s the way it goes.” -Shaka Smart (ESPN)
The No. 2 seed Rams will know that their name will be called on Sunday, as an impressive CAA Tournament run answered all of the questions.
For Drexel, it will be a long week. The Dragons go back to Philadelphia tomorrow, and will have a whole week thinking about the defeat. A 27-6 overall record and a CAA regular season title looks stellar, but a 65 RPI and an ugly 253 strength of schedule mark is what’s holding them back.
Drexel’s biggest wins came in CAA play, as they defeated VCU at home on January 8th.
The comeback from Drexel was helped by VCU’s poor free-throw shooting, a part of the game that has hurt them all season long. The Rams missed six free throws in the game, but most of them came late in the second half.
Both teams struggled with ball control, as VCU turned the ball over 11 times compared to Drexel’s 17. The three-pointer is what kept Drexel in the game, as they shot 45 percent from beyond the arc, along with 91 percent from the free-throw line.
The Dragons will hope their name is called on Selection Sunday. If not, an NIT bid is waiting for them on Bruiser Flint’s desk.