BROOKYLN -- When VCU senior Briante Weber went down with a season ending knee injury in February, head coach Shaka Smart gathered his team the next day and told them they would be cutting down the nets in Brooklyn, and Weber would cut the last cord.
"Sometimes they say you can speak things into reality" Smart said after his Rams won their first A-10 tournament title 71-65 over Dayton. "That's something that we wanted to do for Bri and for this team. For our guys to respond and to be here and to cut the nets down says a lot about their togetherness and their decision to be connected around a common goal.
True to form, Weber was indeed the last player to cut down the net after the win.
"It's been a long time since I cut down a net, freshman year" said Weber still wearing the remnants of the Barclay's Center net around his neck. "It was definitely a roller coaster of emotions. Happy, excited, exuberant. Every excited word you can think of, that was me at that moment."
Senior Treveon Graham was named the tournament MVP after scoring 20 points and pulling down 13 rebounds in the title game. He and forward Mo Alie-Cox were named to the all tournament team. Cox finished with 13 points against Dayton after scoring a career high 18 on Saturday against Davidson.
"We came up here with one goal: that was to win a championship" Alie-Cox said. "Coach said do it for the man beside you. That's what we tried to focus on the whole weekend and we accomplished our goal."
Not without working for it. Dayton was led by Scoochie Smith who had 16 points and Dyshawn Pierre who added another 14. VCU led by as many as 11 early in the second half, but the Flyers had tied the game with 3:10 to play.
"It was challenging, but we were used to it" said Graham. "In a championship game, you have to go all out. We don't have any games for awhile, so we just gave it all we had and left it all on the court."
Down the stretch, Graham and JeQuan Lewis (15 points) took turns making big shots, one coming off a timely steal from Doug Brooks. The Rams also hit their last 8 free throws to seal the win.
Although he has not played because of his injury, Weber has been a constant presence right next to Smart's seat on the bench, offering encouragement and perhaps shining a light on his future profession.
"It feels better knowing I'm a better coach than I am a player" joked Weber. "I had all my trust in the fellas, and they believed in me to do all I can to help motivate them."
"I'm really appreciative of our fans" said Smart. "To stay for four games in four days, and in every one of them, our crowd was able to overwhelm the opposing crowds and was able to give us energy. We need that, especially these last three games."
Their next game will be this Thursday in the NCAA tournament's West Region. The Rams earned a 7 seed and will travel to Portland, Oregon for a second round matchup with Ohio State. This is the second time in four years the Rams have gone to Portland, and the third time in the last four years they have been sent to the West Coast.
"Our coaching staff will immediately start preparing for Ohio State" Smart said after the selection show. "For us it's a quick turnaround. We're excited about getting out to Portland. Our older guys have some experience there, and we're looking forward to going back."
Smart says he has watched the Buckeyes occasionally throughout the year, but only as a college basketball fan and not an analyzing coach. He regards Thad Motta as one of the best in college basketball and acknowledges the challenge ahead.
"They're a very talented team" Smart said. "We're going to have a heck of a challenge on our hands."
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