VCU has had an outstanding first season in the Atlantic 10 even if it came up short in its bid for a regular-season championship.
A tournament title would certainly soften the blow.
The 25th-ranked Rams play their inaugural A-10 tournament game Friday night when they face Saint Joseph's in the quarterfinals in Brooklyn.
A win at Temple on Sunday would've given VCU (24-7) a share of the regular-season Atlantic 10 championship in its debut campaign in the league, and for a while that looked like a foregone conclusion.
The Rams used their full-court press and flawless 3-point shooting to build a 16-point lead with just under 6 minutes left in the first half, but the Owls cut the deficit to five by the break. Temple then used a 17-7 run for a five-point edge and held off VCU for an 84-76 win.
Juvonte Reddic led the Rams with 20 points and nine rebounds, while Treveon Graham added 17 points, seven boards and five assists.
"Nobody transitions from a smaller league to a bigger league and wins the league in the first year,'' coach Shaka Smart said. "This is why. You've got to win games like today. We just didn't do what it took to win.''
The loss was only the second in 10 games for the second-seeded Rams, who were Colonial Athletic Association tournament champions last season after losing in the final in 2010-11.
Smart's team failed to match last season's 25-win regular season, but is still one of only three programs, along with Kansas and Memphis, to post 24 victories in each of the past seven years.
Although the level of competition is much greater in the A-10 compared to the CAA, VCU switched conferences, in part, so it could play a postseason tournament in the new Barclays Center.
"The arena itself creates an added level of excitement,'' Smart said.
This will be the first tournament game for the Rams outside the city of Richmond since they joined the CAA in 1995-96.
"This is the only school I've coached where we've played a conference tournament in our home city," Smart told the school's official website. "That's more the exception than the norm. We're like everyone else. We have to travel to New York to play."
Saint Joseph's earned a matchup with VCU after Langston Galloway's two free throws with 1.4 seconds left lifted it to a 58-57 first-round victory over Xavier on Thursday.
Galloway finished with a team-high 14 points for the 10th-seeded Hawks (18-12), who are 13-3 all-time in A-10 first-round games but seeking their first championship since 1997.
This tournament offers Saint Joseph's a chance at some redemption after a disappointing season. The preseason pick to win the A-10 after returning their whole roster from a 20-win team, the Hawks instead tied for eighth.
VCU needed a late rally in regulation and overtime to beat Saint Joseph's 92-86 in Richmond on Jan. 17. The Rams missed 25 of 32 3-pointers but forced 20 turnovers while committing only five, outscoring the Hawks 31-3 off miscues.
Senior guard Carl Jones leads Saint Joseph's with 14.0 points per game, but shot 1 of 10 Thursday and is 6 for 27 in his last three contests.
The winner faces either third-seeded Temple or Massachusetts in Saturday's second semifinal.
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