BROOKLYN, N.Y. — 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 on their way to a 74-55 victory in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament.
Junior guard Treveon Graham’s key 3-pointer with 5:37 left in regulation separated the Rams from the Colonials for the first time all game and was a blow that George Washington was unable to recover from.
Graham finished with 22 points and four timely 3-pointers to lead VCU to a win and a berth in the Atlantic 10 championship game against fourth-seeded Saint Joseph’s.
Forward Mo Alie-Cox tipped home a miss by VCU guard Rob Brandenberg miss with 4:21 remaining to give the Rams their first double-digit lead of the game and the crowd came alive inside the Barclays Center as VCU showed the country that it is prepared for another deep run in March.
VCU’s pressure, led by junior guard Briante Weber and his tenacious defense, forced 15 Colonials turnovers. Forward Kevin Larsen felt the pressure all day, turning the ball over six times.
Forward Isaiah Armwood carried the Colonials for much of the first half, scoring 10 of his 15 points and making all four of his shots from the field before intermission. He scored seven of George Washington’s first nine points and sparked an early 14-9 lead for the Colonials.
Armwood converted an and-one layup with eight seconds remaining in the first half to give George Washington a 31-30 lead. Brandenburg answered Armwood with a corner 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Rams into the locker room with a 33-31 advantage.
Weber finished with 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 interior post defense frustrated the Colonials in the second half as they shot just 33.3 percent from the field after halftime.
VCU guard Melvin Johnson exited the game after diving for a loose ball with 15:30 left in the first half and did not return with a sprained knee.
NOTES: VCU coach Shaka Smart is now 23-6 in postseason play and 28-7 in March. … The Rams are playing in a conference championship game for the sixth time in the last eight seasons. … George Washington turned the ball over 58 times in three meetings with VCU this season.
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