VCU coach Shaka Smart lives for March.
Smart's Rams are now in their fourth conference final in the last five seasons after wreaking “Havoc” against George Washington and pulling away in the second half for a 74-55 victory in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Junior guard Treveon Graham's 3-pointer with 5:37 left in regulation sparked a key run. He finished with 22 points and four timely 3-pointers to lead second-seeded VCU to a win and a berth in the 1 p.m. Sunday championship game against fourth-seeded St. Joseph's.
Forward Mo Alie-Cox tipped home a miss by guard Rob Brandenberg with 4:21 remaining to give the Rams their first double-digit lead of the game, and the mostly pro-Rams crowd came alive inside the Barclays Center.
VCU's pressure, led by junior guard Briante Weber of Chesapeake and his tenacious defense, forced 15 GW turnovers.
Weber had 16 points and a game-high eight assists. Alie-Cox's eight points and seven rebounds off the bench provided the Rams with a huge lift. His post defense frustrated the third-seeded Colonials, who shot just 33.3 percent from the field after halftime.
VCU guard Melvin Johnson sprained his knee while diving for a loose ball with 15:30 left in the first half. He was in a cast and is not expected to play against St. Joseph’s, which bounced St. Bonaventure 67-48.
Halil Kanacevic racked up 26 points and 17 rebounds for the Hawks (23-9), who pulled away in the second half to further solidify their NCAA at-large credentials, even should they lose to VCU.
The Providence Friars, with sophomore Josh Fortune from Kecoughtan High contributing 10 points, upended Creighton 65-58 at Madison Square Garden to win their first Big East tournament title in 20 years.
Bryce Cotton scored 23 points and LaDontae Henton came up big down the stretch against the 14th-ranked Bluejays.
Providence, an original member of the Big East, had only made the championship game once before - in 1994 - but prevailed for the second time thanks to terrific defense against a Creighton team that entered averaging 80.2 points on 50.1 percent shooting. The Bluejays shot only 42.9 percent in this one -- 8-of-30 from 3-point range -- and senior star Doug McDermott was limited to 27 points after torching the Friars for a career-high 45 points one week earlier.
Providence (23-11), a "bubble" team entering the conference tourney, took an automatic bid and became the first team all season to hold Creighton below 60 points.
Mary Washington's dream season ended with a dose of reality against Williams (Mass.) in an Elite Eight game in Fredericksburg,
The Ephs won 79-46 behind Taylor Epley's 19 points, ending a season for the Eagles (25-6) in which they set a school record for wins, won the Capital Athletic Conference tournament, made the NCAA bracket for the first time and won three games in the tourney.
"Tonight, we just hit the wall I thought we'd hit a month ago, or in some guys' cases, two months ago, or four," UMW coach Rod Wood said.
An 11-0 run gave Williams a 15-5 lead, and the Ephs led 43-20 at halftime. They outshot Mary Washington 53 percent to 19 in the first half.
Regular-season champ James Madison and two-time defending champ Delaware, the No. 2 seed, advanced to the Colonial Athletic Association final in Upper Marlboro, Md.
Kirby Burkholder set a tournament record with 22 points as the Dukes (27-5) won 55-43 over Drexel, the team that knocked them out in the previous two years’ semifinals.
Burkholder and Precious Hall had 11 points each, and Norfolk’s Toia Giggetts added 10 — her 23rd consecutive game in double figures. JMU went on a 16-0 run for a 34-18 lead.
Delaware outlasted the College of Charleston 60-52 behind Kelsey Buchanan’s 19 rebounds and 14 points. The Blue Hens finished on an 8-2 run.
Kelsey Minato scored 31 points to lead Army to a 68-58 win over Holy Cross in the Patriot League final in West Point, N.Y.
The Black Knights (25-7) gained an automatic NCAA bid behind Minato -- "the great equalizer," Army coach Dave Magarity said of his sophomore guard. "She's an incredible player and as special a player as I've ever coached in my 32 years as a head coach."
The victory got Army back in the national tournament for the first time since 2006, when rookie coach Maggie Dixon took the Black Knights to their first NCAAs, where they lost a first-round game in Norfolk to top-seeded Tennessee at the Constant Center.
Dixon died a month later of arrhythmia, probably caused by an enlarged heart. Coach Magarity was an assistant on that team and took over the program after Dixon died.
"Maggie Dixon had a front row seat in heaven for this," said Holy Cross coach Billy Gibbons, a longtime friend of Magarity.
Magarity, who coached the 1988 Marist team to the NCAA tournament, became just the second coach to take teams to the men's and women's NCAAs. Bill Morris did so for La Salle.
Ebony Rowe scored 23 points to help No. 22-ranked Middle Tennessee State cruise to an 84-55 victory over Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA title game in El Paso, Texas, earning the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Olivia Jones had 18 points, KeKe Stewart added 15 and China Dow 11 to help the Blue Raiders (29-4) get their 11th straight win.
MTSU, a former Sun Belt team, secured a berth in the NCAA tournament for the 10th time in 11 years by winning its first C-USA title. Jameirra Faulkner had 20 points and 10 assists to lead Southern Miss (26-6), which eliminated Old Dominion in a quarterfinal.
Maybe Christopher Newport shouldn't feel too morose about being eliminated by Whitman on Friday night.
Whitman, playing at home in a packed gym in Walla Walla, Wash., knocked off previously unbeaten, top-ranked Thomas More (Ky.) 76-60 Saturday night to reach the D-III Final Four.
Bad luck struck Thomas More in the form of an injury to Sydney Moss, perhaps the nation's best D-III player. Former NFL receiver Randy Moss' daughter was limited to 12 minutes and six points, and the Missionaries capitalized.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun