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VCU Wins Atlantic 10 Tournament, Clinches NCAA Appearance vs. St. Mary's


After taking down the Dayton Flyers 68-56 in the 2023 Atlantic 10 Championship, the VCU Rams become the second A-10 squad in three years to win both the conference Regular Season and Tournament Championship in the same season. They join the St. Bonaventure Bonnies, who completed this same feat in 2021.


However, when zooming out on the last decade of Atlantic 10 basketball, this tournament has not been kind to 1-seeds. Since 2013, only three A-10 Regular Season Champs have gone on to win the Tournament (Saint Louis in 2013 to join VCU and Bona), with another three (SLU in 2014, Dayton in 2017, VCU in 2019) not even reaching the semifinals.


Luckily for the Rams, Head Coach Mike Rhoades is no stranger to adversity. That 2019 Tournament was during Rhoades’ second year with the Rams, finishing the season with an NCAA Round of 64 loss to UCF. Two years later, Rhoades took the Rams to another at-large bid, but VCU became the only team in the tournament to withdraw due to positive COVID-19 tests within the program. With his third at-large bid as VCU’s Skipper, Rhoades can’t take another opportunity for granted.


“The greatest lesson I can teach these guys through basketball is to deal with adversity, because that’s life,” Coach Rhoades explained in a postgame presser. “I use it all the time. It’s probably cliché, lot’s of coaches do [use this mentality], but when you’re down 11 with 18 minutes left in a championship game, there’s only two things that could happen; you could fold or you could keep fighting, and you can get through that adversity.”


Such was the position that the Rams found themselves in early in the second half. Leading 41-30 with 18:59 left to play, Dayton had built up a considerable advantage thanks to a strong first half from Flyers stars DaRon Holmes and Mustapha Amzil. Scoring 14 and 15 respectively in the first, Dayton's offense continued the trend of physical, forward-focused basketball seen throughout the tournament.


In the first half, Dayton outscored VCU 18-10 in the paint, 11-5 on second chance points, and found themselves in the bonus with 8 minutes left to play. In terms of adjustments, Coach Rhoades emphasized getting over the mental roadblocks of a deficit as much as hitting shots.


“I think sometimes when people get to a championship game, you don’t want to mess it up,” Rhoades explained. “That’s just not me. I’m the other way around.”


Rhoades mentioned VCU’s 75-64 loss to Richmond in the 2022 Atlantic 10 Quarterfinals as a game the Rams played not to lose.


“If you want to go [and] win the championship, you’ve got to take it from somebody.”


While Dayton still excelled early on offense in the second half, VCU got hot from the field, connecting on three consecutive possessions to get within 3 points before the under-16 media timeout. Receiving a pass on the left corner at the 14:30 mark, Nick Kern pump faked before driving in parallel to the baseline. Finishing at the glass with DaRon Holmes’ hand in his face, Kern gave the Rams a 44-43 lead.


After shooting 36% from the field in the first half, VCU would shoot 55.6% from the field in the second. Ace Baldwin finished the game leading all Rams scorers with 16 points.


The biggest adjustment for the Rams, however, came with their defense. VCU would not allow a Dayton field goal in the final 10 minutes of the half. The Flyers would shoot 6 for 30 in the second half, with DaRon Holmes hitting all 7 of the Flyers’ second half free throws. When asked what changed defensively for the Rams, Coach Rhoades revealed what he told his players at the under-12 media timeout.


“I don’t think I can repeat it, but I said [that] we will not win the game if we don’t get tougher on defense,” Rhoades recounted. "If we allow them to throw the ball where they want and we don’t rebound, we will not win. I said it like that. It’s just [a] fact.”


VCU grabbed 14 defensive rebounds in contrast to 10 Dayton offensive rebounds in the second half. Toumani Camara, who scored 17 and 28 in the Quarterfinals and Semifinals respectively, was held to 6 points off of 2-9 shooting the entire game.


With the win, VCU earned their second Atlantic 10 Tournament Title, their first since 2015. Entering the NCAA Tournament as a 12-seed, the Rams will take on 5-seed St. Mary’s in the Round of 64.


“Hey, when you get in the tournament, anything could happen,” Rhoades said. “We’ve all seen it, we’ve all experienced it. I was fortunate enough to be on a team that made a cool run. You just never know. But I know one thing; we’ll be ready to play, and we’ll show up. That’s for sure.”

 

According to David Jablonski of the Dayton Daily News, the Dayton Flyers, who had received considerable NIT buzz, announced Sunday Evening that they would not be making any postseason invitational appearances. The Flyers cited health concerns throughout the roster as why they are effectively ending their 2022-23 campaign.

After accepting a bid to the CBI, the Duquesne Dukes join VCU as the only other Atlantic 10 team in a postseason tournament.

 

Atlantic 10 All-Tournament Team

  • Khalid Moore (Fordham)

  • Erik Reynolds II (Saint Joseph's)

  • Toumani Camara (Dayton)

  • DaRon Holmes II (Dayton)

  • Ace Baldwin (VCU)

  • Jamir Watkins (VCU)

Atlantic 10 Most Outstanding Player: DaRon Holmes II (Dayton)

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