Recap: Sometimes basketball isn't about talent or coaching, but rather matchup. In this moment, 23rd ranked VCU and is a brutal foe for George Washington. The Rams unleashed their "Havoc" defense from the start of Saturday's Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinal. Eventually, the Colonials ball handlers succumbed to the defensive pressure.
Treveon Graham scored 22 points and VCU closed the game with a 19-5 run for a 74-55 victory over George Washington. The second-seeded Rams, winners of six straight, will face No. 4 seed Saint Joseph's in Sunday's A-10 Championship game.
Isaiah Armwood had 15 points and Nemanja Mikic scored 10 for the Colonials (24-8), who had won four in a row. GW defeated VCU in the first of three meetings this season, but dropped the last two.
Struggling against the Rams' wave of defenders proved decisive in both setbacks. The Colonials committed 15 turnovers, hardly an obscene amount against VCU, though 11 came in the first half. GW went without a field goal over the final 7:40 of the semifinals and without a point for the final 4:13. VCU scored the final 10 points.
The Colonials also lost the battle of the boards decisively in the second half. Kevin Larsen added 10 points, but had six turnovers.
Briante Weber, the heartbeat of VCU's defense, had 16 points, eight assists and six rebounds.
Big picture: The loss ends GW's A-10 run, but not its postseason. Barring the unimaginable, the Colonials (RPI 30) will hear their name announced as one of the 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament field on Selection Sunday. Still lots of moving pieces nationally, but most recent projections have GW in the 7-9 seed range.
The Rams are in their second straight A-10 final, having lost last season to Saint Louis. With a win on Sunday, VCU (RPI 12) could be looking at 5-seed in the NCAA's
Turning point: VCU led 33-31 at halftime and throughout the second half, but GW stayed close and trailed 53-50 with 7:41 remaining on Mikic's fourth 3-pointer. Unable to push beyond a 5-6 point lead, the Rams began to pull away as Graham's 3-pointer following a VCU block pushed the margin to nine.
Key stat: Before the Colonials left for Brooklyn, I asked head coach Mike Lonergan which game stat he covets most. Holding the A-10 stats pack in his hand, he immediately pointed to rebounding margin. On the season, GW finished second in the conference. However VCU finished with a 37-28 advantage as Juvonte Reddic grabbed 10 boards.
Injuries: GW point guard Joe McDonald, who has battled a hip injury all season, briefly left late in the second half with an apparent right ankle injury. He returned, but would fouled out with 3:03 remaining. Minus their lead facilitator, the Colonials offense dried up.
Melvin Johnson, the Rams' third-leading scorer, did not return after departing early in the first half with a leg injury. Johnson reportedly sported an air cast while sitting on the bench after halftime.
1st half: The Colonials led most of the opening 20 minutes including 20-14 with over eight minutes left. That's when VCU's defense started wrecking, well, havoc. During a seven-possession stretch, GW committed six turnovers. VCU jumped into the lead and entered halftime leading 33-31 on Rob Brandenburg's corner 3-pointer at the buzzer. Armwood led all scorers with 10 points and Mikic added nine. GW committed 11 turnovers, five by Larsen.
Another injury update: On Tuesday Lonergan said Kethan Savage, out since Jan. 18 with a fractured left foot, would receive limited minutes during the A-10 Tournament. Following Friday's victory Massachusetts, Lonergan, speaking on the TV postgame show, strongly inferred Savage wouldn't play until the NCAA's. Then out of nowhere, the sophomore guard entered Saturday's game during the first half. Ultimately the move may have been pure motivation/inspiration as Savage only played briefly and not at all in the second half.