After going down 41-30 early in the second half of the Atlantic-10 Championship at the hands of a 14 point first half from DaRon Holmes II, the VCU Rams rallied to defeat the Dayton Flyers, 68-56, to earn the program’s first A-10 Championship crown since 2015.
The Rams scrappy defense held Dayton without a field goal in the final 10 minutes of action, while All-Tournament selection Ace Baldwin Jr. put on a second half show with 10 points and five assists to complete the comeback for Mike Rhoades and Co. After missing out on the 2021 NCAA Tournament due to a COVID-19 outbreak, VCU will get a shot at redemption.
This road to the final wasn’t an easy one, especially in a chaotic yet unique year for the A-10 and subsequently, its conference tournament. For the most part, VCU proved to consistently be the best program in the A-10 despite finishing third in the conference preseason poll, managing a 27-7 overall record which included wins over Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt, Kennesaw State, and Howard.
With the regular season coming to a close and VCU being awarded the conference regular-season title, the Rams arrived in Brooklyn as the No. 1 seed set to open in the quarterfinals.
The first round went off without a hitch as No. 12 Richmond defeated No. 13 UMass and the two Philadelphia based schools in No. 10 Saint Joseph’s and No. 11 La Salle took down No. 15 Loyola Chicago and No. 14 Rhode Island respectively. In the second round, No. 8 Davidson managed a win over No. 9 St. Bonaventure before No. 5 George Mason handedly beat the advancing Spiders.
However, it’s here that we’d have our first upsets as St. Joe’s rolled past No. 7 George Washington followed by the Explorers with a victory against No. 6 Duquesne. The back-to-back upsets from the Philly school’s would mark the first program’s since the conference tournament’s expansion in 2014 to win on both Day 1 and Day 2.
This set the scene for VCU to take down Davidson, 71-53, led by Baldwin Jr., David Shriver, and Jamir Watkins each contributing 11 points for a spot in the semifinals where the Rams would meet No. 4 Saint Louis after an 82-54 win over George Mason.
Despite a last minute push from the Hawks, No. 2 Dayton would pull out a 60-54 win to end SJU’s time in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, La Salle kept things close against No. 3 Fordham but couldn’t pull out another victory behind the ruckus “Rose Thill” crowd at the Barclays.
Come the semifinals after a Friday off, VCU steamrolled the Billikens with a score of 90-78 to book a spot in the Finals while Dayton secured a much more heavily contested 78-68 victory against the hometown Rams for its Finals entry.
As we know, VCU prevailed to defeat the Flyers in come from behind fashion — a testament to the heart and determination of this Rams team after being passed over in the early season, battling injuries, and picking up some early in-conference losses. Now, having qualified for the 2023 NCAA Tournament behind the talent of Baldwin Jr., Watkins, Shriver, Brandon Johns Jr., Jayden Nunn, Jalen DeLoach, and many more, the Rams will be a popular pick to cause some damage as a 12 seed in the west region.
They’ve shown resiliency and persistence to earn that lone bid out of the one bid A-10 from this season, and now the Rams will have an opportunity to show those same characteristics on the national stage.