NEW YORK (AP) — Treveon Graham scored 22 points and No. 23 VCU pressed and pressured its way into another conference tournament championship game, beating George Washington 74-55 in the Atlantic 10 semifinals on Saturday.
The second-seeded Rams (26-7) will play for the A-10 title for the second year in a row, facing fourth-seeded St. Joseph’s on Sunday. Coach Shaka Smart has led the Rams to a conference tournament final in four of his five seasons, first in the Colonial Athletic Association and the past two in the A-10.
Briante Weber added 16 points for the Rams, who lost last year’s final to Saint Louis, and Mo Alie-Cox provided muscle and energy off the bench with eight points, seven rebounds and two blocks.
Isaiah Armwood led third-seeded George Washington (24-8) with 15 points. The Colonials (24-8) are out, but the season isn’t over. They should be getting a spot in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.
VCU will likely have to move on without A-10 sixth man of the year Melvin Johnson, who injured his knee early in the first half.
George Washington was able to counter VCU’s “Havoc” full-court pressure for a while with strong inside play from Armwood (5-for-7 shooting) and Kevin Larsen (10 points).
VCU forced 15 turnovers and had seven steals, below its nation’s best season average, but the Rams made up for it by shooting better than usual from the outside against GW’s 1-3-1 zone.
Graham was 4 for 6 from 3-point range and Rob Brandenberg was 3 for 6.
Weber made a 3 from the corner to put VCU up 50-45 with 10:30 left and the Rams came up with a steal to break up a George Washington two-on-one at the other end. VCU fans love their team’s defense and hustle and that play got the “V-C-U!” chant cranking at Barclays Center.
A block by Alie-Cox on Larsen triggered a VCU break and Graham finished it with a 3 from up top that made the score 60-51 with 5:37 left, prompting a timeout from GW.
Alie-Cox then got into it on the offensive end, tipping in a miss in traffic to make the lead 64-53 with 4:20 left.
Colonials point guard Joe McDonald fouled out with 3:03 left and GW down nine, leaving George Washington to rally against “Havoc” without its most reliable ball-handler.
VCU promptly forced a turnover, Alie-Cox flipped in a one-hander to make it 68-55 with 2:46 left and Rams fans could start making plans for another night celebrating in Brooklyn.
Johnson was hurt during a scramble for a loose ball and had to be helped off the court by two team staffers. He returned to the bench in the second half with a full leg brace and crutches.
Shortly after Johnson left, Kethan Savage entered for George Washington. The sophomore and team’s second-leading scorer had been out since Jan. 18 with a broken foot. Savage wasn’t out there long. He played one minute.
For the second straight game, Nemanja Mikic gave George Washington an unexpected boost off the bench with three first-half 3-pointers. Mikic, who came into the semifinals averaging 4.7 points, scored 14 in the Colonials’ victory Friday against Massachusetts.
The last few minutes of the first half were played at VCU’s frenetic pace, with the Rams’ black-and-gold clad fans making Barclays Center sound like the Siegel Center in Richmond.
Armwood’s three-point play with 8 seconds left gave George Washington a one-point lead and quieted the Rams faithful, but Brandenberg’s corner 3 as time winded down sent the Rams to the break up 33-31 to a “V-C-U!” chant.