PITTSBURGH (AP) Jared Terrell finished with 20 points and E.C. Matthews added 19, including a decisive runner with 55 seconds to go as Rhode Island earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999 with a 70-63 victory over Virginia Commonwealth in the Atlantic-10 title game on Sunday.
The third-seeded Rams (24-9) never trailed and withstood a serious late push by second-seeded VCU (26-8) to capture their first conference tournament title since Lamar Odom led them to the A-10 crown 18 years ago. It's the ninth time in Rhode Island history the program is going to the NCAAs.
JeQuan Lewis led VCU with 15 points and Justin Tillman had 10 points and 17 rebounds but VCU struggled to get anything going against Rhode Island. VCU shot just 31 percent (21 of 67) from the field and forced just six Rhode Island turnovers.
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VCU was pushed to overtime by third-seeded Richmond in the semifinals on Saturday while Rhode Island cruised by ninth-seeded Davidson. Rhode Island certainly looked like the fresher team at the outset as the A-10's top defensive team swarmed VCU whenever it tried to get to the rim. VCU made just 4 of 22 from the field to start the game as Rhode Island opened an early 17-point lead.
Lewis settled down after the break and spearheaded a VCU rally that saw the Rams get within 53-48 on a driving layup by Lewis with 9:38 to play.
Wanting to avoid pinning its NCAA hopes on being in the right side of the bubble, Rhode Island responded. Cyril Langevine put back a missed free throw and Matthews hit a deep 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock to put Rhode Island up 60-49.
VCU made one more push, getting within three twice in the last 90 seconds but no closer as the Rams pulled away. Matthews made an off balance runner with under a minute to go and Terrell's free throws finished VCU off.
Matthews was named the tournament's most outstanding player after averaging 19.3 points and 5.7 rebounds.
Rhode Island: A signature moment for fifth-year coach Danny Hurley, who has steadily rebuilt the program since taking over in 2012.
VCU: The Rams are still in solid shape ahead of the brackets being announced, though their inability to dictate tempo or pace in the semifinals and finals will be something to work on ahead of the postseason.
Rhode Island: The NCAA Tournament later this week.
VCU: Hard to imagine a team with 26 wins not making the NCAAs.
More AP college basketball: www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.