Majerus magic: Saint Louis dumps VCU to win A-10 crown
Brooklyn, NY – Kwamain Mitchell scored 19 points on a near- flawless shooting performance, and 16th-ranked Saint Louis captured its first conference tournament title in 13 years with a 62-56 verdict over No. 25 VCU in the Atlantic 10 Championship.
Mitchell made good on 7-of-9 field goal attempts -- including 3-of-4 from 3- point range -- and the Billikens overcame 18 turnovers against the Rams' trademark pressure with a terrific defensive display of their own.
Saint Louis (27-6) limited VCU to a 33.9 success rate from the floor en route to securing the A-10's automatic bid, and will enter the NCAA Tournament with 15 victories in its last 16 games during what's been a dramatic season for the program.
The top-seeded Billikens, who last claimed a league tourney crown while in Conference USA in 2000, are now 24-3 since Rick Majerus -- the school's head coach for the previous five seasons -- died on Dec. 1.
Dwayne Evans put up 16 points and eight rebounds to help Saint Louis prevail.
Hours after the win, the Billikens found out they will be a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and their first game is against New Mexico State on Thursday.
"I think we have the team to make a pretty good run," Billikens forward Cody Ellis said. "I think we're going to scare some people."
Treveon Graham accumulated 20 points and 12 rebounds for second-seeded VCU (26-8), with Juvonte Reddic finishing with 15 points and eight boards in defeat.
The Rams, the nation's leader in steals per game, lost for the first time in 27 outings this season when inducing 15 turnovers or more.
Still, VCU was awarded a No. 5 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament and will play Akron on Thursday.
Sunday's game was billed as a matchup between two of the nation's premier stop units, and each lived up to its reputation over portions of the opening half.
After registering the contest's initial basket, VCU missed eight straight shots and committed six turnovers against the Billikens' tight defense over a stretch of more than six minutes, with Saint Louis reeling off 11 straight points to gain the early upper hand.
However, the Rams answered with a 10-1 run -- getting eight off those points off Saint Louis miscues -- to knot the score at 12-12 just past the midway stage of the first half.
VCU's offense again went cold before the conclusion of the period, however, and the Billikens capitalized with a 10-2 burst capped by consecutive treys by Mitchell to claim a 28-19 advantage a minute prior to intermission.
A Briante Weber jumper with 24 seconds left in the half ended a 5 1/2-minute scoreless drought for the Rams, who shot just 29.6 percent for the stanza and trailed 29-21 at the break.
Evans' 3-point play less than two minutes into the second half extended Saint Louis' lead to 34-23, but the outcome was far from sealed by that time.
Down by 13 with under 11 1/2 minutes to go, the Rams turned up their defensive pressure to get back in it.
VCU created four turnovers during a 13-1 tear that Graham ignited with a basket from beyond the arc, with the last of the takeaways producing an uncontested dunk by Reddic that pulled the Rams within 46-45 with 8:52 remaining.
After the teams traded 3-point buckets over the next two minutes, Ellis made a key jumper and Mitchell buried a momentum-changing triple shortly after that to put Saint Louis up 54-48 with 4:50 left to play.
The Rams scored the next three points to cut the deficit to three, but Rob Brandenberg missed a wide-open trey attempt for VCU with 2:43 left. On the ensuing possession, Evans kicked the ball out to Ellis for another 3-point make that proved quite damaging to the Rams' comeback hopes.
VCU got as close as four points down in the final stages, but Saint Louis held on by hitting 5-of-6 foul shots during the stretch run.
"We had our style going for parts of the game. We just didn't have it going for enough of the game," VCU head coach Shaka Smart said.
Troy Daniels, VCU's third leading scorer at 12.5 points per game, did not record a point while going 0-for-5 from the field and playing just 17 minutes due to foul trouble ... Saint Louis now has five wins against top-25 foes this season, including a 76-62 home decision over then-No. 24 VCU on Feb. 19 ... The Billikens entered the contest just 1-4 all-time in conference tournament finals, with Sunday's matchup their first as an A-10 member ... The Rams reached the CAA championship game in each of the previous two seasons, defeating Drexel last year and falling to Old Dominion in 2011.