WASHINGTON D.C. – VCU and Dayton meeting in March is something that every fan of college basketball can get behind.
Odds are, there is a conference tournament on the line or a chance to build seed line heading into the NCAA Tournament.
On Thursday afternoon, however, it was neither. No. 8 seed Virginia Commonwealth emerged victorious over No. 9 seed Dayton 77-72 in the second-round of the Atlantic-10 Tournament, with nine different scorers for the Rams.
It was a classic bruiser between two teams in similar, unfamiliar positions; looking up at the leaders instead of down at the also-rans.
The officials kept the whistles on their chests. Defenses pressured with tight man-on-man defense. And the post players roughed each other up on more than one occasion.
VCU (18-14, 9-9 Atlantic-10) got a balanced offensive production with all five starters scoring double figures. Tillman had a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Fellow senior Jonathan Williams had 14 points and five assists.
Always known for their home court advantage at the Siegel Center and traveling well, the blue background of the arena was littered with Black and Gold. Commanding the atmosphere, the Rams were never out of the game, even when they blew a 10-point advantage. Keep in perspective, this was the noon game on Thursday, perhaps the worst time slot of the entire tournament.
“You see all of that Black and Gold, our guys even talked about it before the game when they came into the locker room” VCU head coach Mike Rhoades said. “Ram Nation, no matter what, has these guys’ back”
Since when did I drive to Richmond? pic.twitter.com/nCZGn4wXLj— Tyler Byrum (@theTylerByrum) March 8, 2018
Throughout the season, the Rams struggled in close game situations down the stretch. As the lead diminished, confidence was going to the Flyers and three-point baskets finally started to go down. Reeling, the Rams had to turn to their defense and climb back into the ball game.
Dayton (14-17, 8-10 Atlantic-10) broke through and took a five point lead with three minutes to go. Trey Landers scored 19 points and grabbed 10 boards, a majority en route to them taking the lead back. VCU’s De'Riante Jenkins (11 points) responded with a key three-pointer and then the defense for the Rams took over.
“I told them in the one timeout at the end, get three stops and we’ll win the game,” Rhoades said.
That’s what they did. Three empty possessions including back-to-back shot clock violations against the Flyers allowed the Rams to take the lead back.
From there free throws closed it out for VCU as the Rams now will face off against the No. 1 seed in the tournament, Rhode Island.
For Rhoades and Dayton’s head coach Anthony Grant, both in their first year, they have stuff to build on. With both teams returning to their roots for one of the final games of the season, it flashed back to the 2015 Atlantic 10 Championship. A Dayton-VCU led A-10 may not be that far off in the horizon.
The loss for Dayton will make it the first season the Flyers will not be dancing since 2013. VCU currently with seven straight seasons in the NCAA Tournament, keep their hopes alive.