Drexel's streak ends, VCU wins CAA

Drexel guard Damion Lee (14) goes up for a layup over Virginia Commonwealth center D.J. Haley (33) during the first half of the Colonial Athletic Association Championship NCAA college basketball game at the Coliseum in Richmond, Va., Monday, March 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

March 5, 2012 8:58:46 PM PST
Drexel coach Bruiser Flint's halftime speech during the CAA championship against Virginia Commonwealth was a no-brainer.

His Dragons were lacking in toughness, he thought, and the Rams went into the locker room on a 25-10 run and leading by 16 points.

"In the second half, we played with the toughness that we usually play with, and clawed ourselves back into the game," Flint said after the Dragons came up just short, 59-56 Monday night.

As in the semifinals, when they whipped the Richmond Coliseum crowd into a frenzy by starting with a 32-4 blitz against George Mason, the Rams were also feeding off a hometown crowd.

But Flint refused to blame the hometown edge, especially after a tournament in which the Colonial Athletic Association set a record with three consecutive sellouts and attendance of 47,833.

"I don't think anyone would complain if they were a good team," Flint said, smiling.

From a league perspective, it also makes sense, he said.

"It looks good because it is a great atmosphere. You watch a lot of these championship games and they don't have this type of atmosphere because there's no home team," he said.

Even with the crowd against his team, the Dragons took it to the wire, coming back gradually through the second half and pulling within a point at 57-56 on Chris Fouch's 3 with 12.7 seconds left.

But Troy Daniels, who made two free throws with 18.9 seconds left, made two more with 11.9 seconds to go, and the Dragon's 19-game winning streak was over, leaving Flint and the CAA to argue on their behalf for an at-large berth when the field of 68 teams for the NCAA tournament is announced Sunday.

Darius Theus had a career-high 16 points and five steals to lead the Rams (28-6), who were the biggest story of last year's NCAA tournament when they won five times to reach the Final Four.

The Dragons (27-6), who had not lost since Jan. 2, haven't been to the tournament since 1996.

Freshman Damion Lee led Drexel with 20 points. Fouch had 15 points and Massenat 14.

The Dragons rallied gradually throughout the second half and pulled within 54-51 with 1:14 to play with the help of four missed free throws in a row by VCU.

After Graham finally made one for the Rams, making it 55-51, Lee missed twice from in close for Drexel and the Rams rebounded. But Theus was turned it over while running into Massenat, and the sophomore made two free throws, cutting the lead to 55-53 with 21.6 seconds to play.

Daniels then made two on both opportunities, sandwiched around Fouch's 3-pointer.

VCU led by 16 at halftime, just as it had against George Mason in the semifinals, and saw the lead cut to six on a 3-pointer and then two free throws by Lee, the latter with 9:06 to go.

The Rams, who blitzed George Mason in the semifinals, taking a 32-4 lead in the first nine minutes, took a little longer to get going against the Dragons, but once they did, their intensity combined with the strain of three games in as many days seemed to take a toll on Drexel.

The Dragons trailed just 10-9 with 15 minutes left in the half, but went more than six minutes without a point as the Rams started a 25-10 run to end the half. Theus scored the first three baskets, all on layups, and had eight points in the surge. Graham added seven.

The Dragons, who came in averaging just over 11 turnovers, had 12 by halftime, and VCU had turned them into 16 points. They finished with 18 that led to 18 points for VCU.