How It Happened
No. 4 seed Rhode Island won its first Atlantic 10 title in 18 years, beating No. 2 VCU 70-63 Sunday afternoon to clinch a spot in the NCAA Championship. After building a large first half lead on the strength of hot shooting, Rhode Island (24-9) withstood a second-half surge from VCU (26-8) to claim the second conference tournament title in program history.
Rhode Island jumped out early, opening the game with a 15-4 run. E.C. Matthews made a 3-pointer on Rhody's first shot of the game to set the tone for the hot start. URI hit four of its first five field goal attempts. Matthews and Jared Terrell scored five points during the game-opening run.
The hot shooting continued for Rhode Island, as it made 10 of its first 14 shots from the floor to build the lead to as many as 17 points. VCU responded with a 9-2 run that cut the lead to 31-21 with 4:50 to go in the half. Rhode Island ended the half on a 9-6 spurt as Jared Terrell hit a runner just before the half to send the Rams into the break up 40-27.
At 17:11 of the second half, Hassan Martin picked up his third foul with Rhody up 45-31. From there, VCU used a 10-2 run cut the lead to 48-42 following a JeQuan Lewis layup with 12:56 remaining. Forced to call timeout, Dan Hurley reinserted Martin, who made an immediate impact by scoring on a tip-in. Following a defensive stop, Terrell was fouled while making a layup. His old-fashioned three-point play pushed Rhode Island's lead back to 11 points at 53-42 with 11:36 remaining.
A 6-0 run by VCU – keyed by consecutive layups by Lewis – cut the Rhode Island lead to five points. Martin hit a free throw to stop the run, but Hurley was tagged with a technical foul with 8:05 remaining, giving VCU a free throw that trimmed the lead to 54-49. Again Rhode Island responded. Jarvis Garrett hit the first of two free throws, and Cyril Langevine got an offensive board and putback on the second attempt. Following a defensive stop, Matthews drained a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired. Martin scored on a turnaround jumper to cap the spurt and put Rhody up 62-51.
VCU refused to go away, eventually getting within three points at 64-61 on a Lewis layup with 1:20 to go. Matthews hit a drive to get the Rhody lead back to five. Justin Tillman scored in the paint with 37 seconds left to pull VCU within three. Terrell made two free throws to make it 68-63, then he came up with a steal on VCU's next possession. Matthews buried two more free throws with 20 seconds left to seal the victory and grab the A-10's automatic bid.
Inside the Box Score
- Junior Jared Terrell led Rhode Island with 20 points, including 6-of-7 from the free throw line.
- Junior E.C. Matthews scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, just missing a double-double.
- After making all four of his 3-pointers against Davidson in the semifinals, Matthews was 4-for-5 from beyond the arc. Matthews was 10-for-15 from long range for the tournament.
- Senior Hassan Martin was the third Ram in double digits. He had 11 points to go with five rebounds and three blocked shots.
- Freshman Cyril Langevine had 10 rebounds, four points and two blocks in 24 minutes off the bench.
- VCU had 14 offensive rebounds in the first half, but managed to score just eight second-chance before the break. For the game, VCU scored just 14 second half points on 23 offensive rebounds.
- Both teams played a very clean game, combining for just 11 turnovers. Rhode Island had six, while VCU committed five.
- Rhode Island now has 24 victories, just the fifth time in program history it has won 24 games in a season.
- The win was the eighth in a row for Rhode Island, the longest since a nine-game run in the 2008-09 season. Rhody also won eight straight 2009-10.
- E.C. Matthews was named the Most Outstanding Player of the A10 championship after averaging 19.3 points and 5.7 rebounds over the three games.
- Joining him on the all-championship team was teammate Hassan Martin, Davidson's Jack Gibbs, George Mason's Marquise Moore and VCU's JeQuan Lewis.
Stats of the Game
2 – This is the second Atlantic 10 Championship title in program history for Rhode Island. The first came in 1999.
39:14 – Rhode Island led for 39:14 of the game, never trailing.
Rhode Island earned the No. 11 seed in the MidWest bracket of the NCAA Championship and will face No. 6 Creighton in the opening round. The game will be played Friday, March 17 in Sacramento, Calif.