Virginia Commonwealth University started fast and held on late to earn its seventh trip in the last 11 years to the title game of Virginia 529 CAA Men’s Basketball Championship, with a 74-64 win over No. 3 seed George Mason on Sunday afternoon at the Richmond Coliseum.
The Rams scored the first 22 points of the game in route to a first-half lead as large as 28 points, but George Mason closed to within six points late in the second half before VCU held on to advance to Monday night’s championship game against top-seeded Drexel.
VCU, which is making its eighth CAA title game appearance overall, knocked the Patriots out of the league tournament for the fifth time since 2007 in winning its fifth straight game. The Rams have won 16 of their last 17 contests entering the championship game and downed Mason for the second time in the last nine days. VCU improved to 27-6 with the victory, while George Mason fell to 24-9.
Senior Bradford Burgess, who set the national mark for consecutive starts, finished with a game-high 20 points on 5-of-10 from 3-point range to lead four Rams in double figures. Burgess started his 143rd straight game on Sunday afternoon, passing Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing for the national record. Junior Troy Daniels finished with 17 points and a team-high six rebounds, while hitting 4-of-7 from long range.
Senior Mike Morrison posted a double-double for Mason with a season-high 20 points and 11 rebounds, while sophomore Jonathan Arledge contributed his first career double-double with 10 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. Morrison also blocked four shots.
The Rams roared out of the gates with its defensive pressure dictating the pace early. VCU jumped out to a 22-0 lead just six and a half minutes into the contest. Over the stretch, VCU forced Mason into seven turnovers on five steals, while the Patriots misfired on their first eight shots from the floor and its first five from long range.
Junior Darius Theus started the Rams out the right way with a steal and fast-break layup just 15 seconds into the contest, and sophomore D.J. Haley followed suit with a theft near midcourt that resulted in another lay-up. Burgess knocked down three straight 3-pointers, before Daniels connected from deep on the right side to extend the lead to 21-0 and force Mason’s second timeout with 14:02 remaining in the first half.
Mason finally got on the scoreboard with a pair of Sherrod Wright free throws at the 13:24 mark. Wright found Arledge for the Patriots first field goal on a dunk with 11:48 left, but the VCU lead ballooned to its largest at 28. Theus found freshman Treveon Graham for a 3-pointer from the right corner and stole the ensuing Mason inbounds pass before hitting a pair of free throws to push the margin to 32-4 with 11:10 left.
The Rams’ lead reached as many as 28 points on three more occasions in the opening half, but Mason closed the stanza on a 14-3 run. The Patriots held VCU without a field goal for the final 5:50, and Morrison put Mason on his back scoring its final 10 points of the half. His dunk with under a minute remaining provided the final points of the opening 20 minutes and sent Mason to the locker room, trailing 48-32.
The Patriots carried their momentum over into the second half, chipping the VCU lead down to 13, 51-38, on an Arledge lay-up at the 15:46 mark. A deep Andre Cornelius trey from the left side drew Mason within single digits, 56-47, midway through the second half.
After Morrison closed the gap to seven at the 7:28 mark on a banking jumper from the right side, Daniels knocked down a huge 3-pointer from the right wing to push the Ram advantage back to 10, 62-52, just 20 seconds later. The VCU lead was still 10 after a pair of Juvonte Reddic free throws, but the Patriots scored four straight to get within six points. Wright hit a jumper for Mason, and two Morrison free throws at the 3:12 mark narrowed the VCU lead to 64-58. The lead was again six after a Cornelius layup at the one-minute mark, but the Rams scored six straight points, pushing the lead back to 12 on the way to the 74-64 win.
Sophomore Rob Brandenberg, who led VCU with 19 points in Saturday’s quarterfinals, chipped in 14 points in the semifinals, and Reddic added 12 points. Theus dished out a game-high seven assists to go with three steals in the victory. Cornelius finished with 15 points, including a 3-of-6 effort from 3-point range, for Mason.
For the game, VCU shot 42.3 percent (22-of-52) from the floor, including 11-of-25 (44 percent) from 3-point range. The Rams were 19-of-28 (67.9 percent) from the free throw line and finished with 10 steals, while only turned the ball over seven times. Mason finished the contest at 42 percent (21-of-50) and 81.8 percent (18-of-22) from the free throw line. The Patriots also held a 41-24 advantage on the glass.