Saint Louis 62, VCU 56

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- Kwamain Mitchell scored 19 points and Dwayne Evans had 16, as Saint Louis survived Virginia Commonweath's ferocious press down the stretch of the Atlantic 10 tournament final Sunday.

The Billikens pulled out the 62-56 win at the Barclays Center for their first A-10 title, in the tournament's Brooklyn debut.

For a while in the second half, the Rams appeared set to mimic the result of the other tournament in town, cutting a 13-point deficit to one and threatening to come back the way Louisville had on Syracuse in the Big East final Saturday night.

But key 3-pointers from Cody Ellis, who scored nine points and Mitchell, who scored 19, helped hold off VCU (26-8).

Saint Louis (27-6), which has thrived under interim coach Jim Crews after mourning the death of former coach Rick Majerus in December, also won its first regular-season conference title of any kind since 1957.

Evans, who scored 64 points in three games, was named the tournament's most outstanding player.

Treveon Graham scored 20 points and Juvonte Reddic had 15 for VCU, which got zero points from senior Troy Daniels, who fell into foul trouble early in the second half.

Up 45-32 with 11:45 left after Evans hit two free throws, the Billikens appeared set to ride their star to another victory. But Saint Louis finally started to show signs of succumbing to VCU's vaunted press, as the Rams went on a 13-1 run, rattling the Billikens and pulling within 46-45 with 8:52 left.

The flurry included the usual Havoc symptoms, with turnovers galore and frustrated looks among the Saint Louis players, who appeared helpless at the hands of the swarming press and double teams at times. But after Mike McCall Jr. struggled bringing the ball up court a couple of times and Reddic capped a five-point streak with a slam dunk off a steal to get the large VCU crowd roaring, the Billikens called timeout.

With anyone who had watched Louisville stun Syracuse in the Big East Tournament final across the bridge Saturday night, knowing how quickly even a good team can unravel against a ferocious pressing defense, Saint Louis turned to sixth man Jordair Jett to bring the ball up court. He did so calmly, and Ellis then hit a huge 3 to settle Saint Louis.

Graham answered with a 3-pointer of his own, but Ellis responded with a basket for a 51-48 lead with 6:50 left.

A few minutes later, with the ravenous VCU crowd screaming for a "turnover" and trying to exert vocal pressure to match its frenzied team on the court, Mitchell would hit his third 3 of the game. As several key shots have the past few games in the tournament, it came with the shot clock expiring and gave Saint Louis a 54-48 lead with 4:48 to play.

The Rams got the lead to four, 58-54, with a minute to go on Graham's layup, but Mitchell responded with two free throws to boost it back to six.

Graham hit two to make it 60-56 in the final minute, but the Rams could get no closer.

Daniels, who scored 20 points and hit three straight 3-pointers in the first half to boost VCU in the semifinal Saturday, picked up his third and fourth fouls in the first two minutes of the second half. He did not return for more than 10 minutes, leaving the Rams without a key scorer.

The Billikens took a 29-21 lead into halftime, after managing to have eight turnovers to VCU's 10.

Mitchell provided an important outside presence for Saint Louis, leading the Billikens with 12 points at the break, including two 3-pointers during an 11-4 spurt to end the half.

Graham had eight points at the break for VCU, which had overcome an early 11-4 deficit to tie the game before falling behind again.

NOTES: The rest of the all-tournament first team was: Reddic, Mitchell, Chaz Williams of Massachusetts and Rotnei Clarke of Butler. ... Saint Louis' last appearance in a conference tournament was in 2000, when the Billikens won four games in four days to claim the Conference USA tournament title, its first league tournament championship of any kind. ... Filmmaker and Brooklyn native Spike Lee, who had rooted for VCU in the earlier rounds, was there again for the championship game, sporting a VCU jersey. ... Lee was again surrounded by VCU fans in the arena, as Rams fans represented most of the crowds throughout their games -- and even some early games -- of any school in the tournament.
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