Published March 17, 2013
NEW YORK – Rob Brandenberg shot the potential tying 3-pointer from the same spot in the corner where he hit a huge basket for VCU a day earlier.
This one was a much better look, open and not rushed, but the ball didn't go in this time with less than three minutes left.
It was that kind of afternoon for the Rams, who lost 62-56 to No. 16 Saint Louis on Sunday in the Atlantic 10 tournament title game.
No. 25 VCU was 3 for 18 from behind the arc. Troy Daniels, who made six 3-pointers to score 20 points in the semifinals against UMass, was held scoreless, missing all four 3-point attempts while limited by foul trouble.
"I'll take the shots that we got," coach Shaka Smart said. "I think on most night we'd give ourselves a really good chance to win with those shots."
The Rams struggled through two scoring droughts of more than five minutes in the first half. When they don't score, they can't set up their press, and the veteran Saint Louis team didn't commit a turnover for a 16-minute stretch spanning both halves.
Top-seeded Saint Louis (27-6) led 45-32 with less than 12 minutes left; VCU was in all sorts of foul trouble. But the second-seeded Rams and their pressing defense can erase a deficit as quickly as any team in the country, and VCU (26-8) was within a point three minutes later.
Treveon Graham hit a 3-pointer, just the Rams' second of the day, to spark the VCU run. Brandenberg turned a steal into a three-point play in transition, then Briante Weber dished to Juvonte Reddic for a basket in the paint.
When Melvin Johnson, a freshman from the Bronx, made a jumper to pull the Rams within four, he pumped his fist and the crowd erupted as Saint Louis called a timeout.
It did little to calm the Billikens. Saint Louis broke the press but was still visibly flustered, and Mike McCall threw the ball to no one.
Saint Louis committed another turnover on its next possession, and Reddic's dunk in transition pulled VCU within 46-45 with less than nine minutes left.
Graham finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds, while Reddic had 15 points and eight rebounds.
"Our whole style of play is to get the other team rattled, and I think for a stretch there we had it going the way we wanted," Smart said. "They were having trouble even getting the ball inbounds. But then they've got some older guys that stepped up, that made big shots."
Such as senior forward Cody Ellis, who calmly drained an open 3-pointer after Johnson fell down on defense. He drilled another jumper after Graham's 3 again drew the Rams within a point.
Ellis made another huge 3 following Brandenberg's miss.
And senior guard Kwamain Mitchell hit a 3-pointer late in the shot clock with Reddic, nearly a foot taller, draped on him to give Saint Louis a 54-48 lead with more than four minutes left.
Mitchell scored 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting.
Saint Louis forward Dwayne Evans had 16 points after combining for 49 the previous two days and earned tournament MVP honors. The Billikens got to the foul line 33 times but missed 12 free throws to help VCU stick around.
"We weren't worried they were only a point behind," Ellis said. "The boys did a great job of keeping their composure. It was unreal."
There were plenty of empty seats at the Barclays Center in the A-10's first season in Brooklyn.
But many who were there wore black and gold, including famous New York City basketball fan Spike Lee, who attended all three of VCU's games and was wearing a Rams jersey Sunday.
When VCU went on its run, its section had the place rocking, even booing Saint Louis' cheerleaders.
The Rams were in their first season in the A-10 after winning the Colonial Athletic Association conference tournament title last year.
"We really wanted this one bad," Theus said.