TITLE GAME LOSS NOT THE ARBITER OF VCU SEASON’S WORTHINESS

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VCU fell to Saint Joseph's Sunday in the A-10 Championship Game, but the Rams are dancing anyway.

VCU fell to Saint Joseph’s Sunday in the A-10 Championship Game, but the Rams are dancing anyway.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Two years ago, this column would have been a eulogy. Today, it’s merely a reminder of how far the VCU program has come and where it’s headed.

VCU suffered a cruel blow Sunday at Barclays Center with a 65-61 loss to Saint Joseph’s in the Atlantic 10 Championship Game. It was a near repeat of 12 months ago, when Saint Louis dealt the Rams a similarly close championship game loss on the same floor.

Emotion caught up to the weight of those two losses Sunday. At the final horn, which cut short VCU’s furious attempt at a comeback, senior Juvonte Reddic crouched down near the VCU basket and buried his head in his shirt. It wasn’t until teammate Jarred Guest and Assistant Coach Mike Rhoades came over to comfort Reddic that he finally left the floor.

It’s understandable that Reddic would be crestfallen. For a second straight year, VCU came within a couple of bounces of a championship. That’s hard to handle, for sure.

But the tonic for what ails Reddic and VCU fans right now should be this: In the two years since the Rams last won a conference championship, the 2012 CAA title, the program has blossomed into a consistent national force. That doesn’t blunt the pain of a championship loss on Sunday, but it does make for a better Monday. That’s because by then, VCU will be making travel arrangements for a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament trip.

In 2011, VCU had to sweat out the NCAA Selection Show after losing to Old Dominion in the CAA Championship Game. Actually, many of the players didn’t bother to watch the show at all. Today, all they had to worry about was whether or not they needed to pack shorts or fleece. The answer is shorts, by the way, as VCU drew a 5-seed and will play Stephen F. Austin in San Diego Friday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

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VIDEO: VCU DEFEATS GEORGE WASHINGTON IN A-10 SEMIFINALS

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HIGHLIGHTS

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PRESSER

BAND ON A BUS; THE PEPPAS CONQUER MANHATTAN

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We met The Peppas Friday morning and hopped on an open-air tour bus. The band  crossed the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan and made its way onto the “Today Show” for the second straight year. Afterwards, we headed to Times Square, where we played outside the “Good Morning America” studio, then through the streets, and onto Madison Square Garden, where some other tournament is going on right now. Finally, we swung over to the iconic New York Public Library, where the band played about six songs and attracted a crowd of a couple hundred before we were shut down by library staffers we can only assume attended Richmond. Here’s a recap:

PEPPAS ON THE TODAY SHOW (AGAIN)

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We rode around all Friday morning with The Peppas. We’ll have our own video from the trip, which included stops all over Manhattan, up later, but here’s the clip of the band crashing the Today Show for the second straight year.

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EDIT: I pulled a bunch of photos from my iPhone and from around the Internet to give you a look at some of the scenes from Friday’s ridealong.

RAMS TAKE DIE KOELNER BIERHALLE

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park-slope-beer-hall-openBROOKLYN, N.Y. – Last year, local pub Die Koelner Bierhalle became the headquarters of Ram Nation North. VCU fans flocked to the neighborhood bar and restaurant to hang out with other VCU fans, watch games and prep for the Atlantic 10 Tournament. KBH, as it is known, became the pregame and postgame spot for Rams fans, and that is expected to continue this year.

On Thursday, we dropped by to see what makes the place so special. If you’re in the neighborhood Friday before (or after) VCU’s game with Richmond, drop by KBH.

VCU TAKES NEW YORK (DAY ONE)

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On Wednesday, we left Richmond and headed up to The Big Apple for the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Mike Voyack and I spent the day trying to capture some of the sights and sounds. Included: Cameo by one VCU player’s parents, The Peppas and a sleeping doctor.

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Here’s a good shot of The Peppas, Gold Rush Dancers and cheerleaders striking a serious pose…ah whatever.

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DROVES OF FANS FUEL RAMS IN BROOKLYN

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VCU fans packed Barclays Center last season as the Rams earned a berth into the Championship Game.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – After a few phone calls and some Internet research, I’ve been able to confirm that there is not, in fact, a VCU satellite campus in the New York metropolitan area.

But you’d have a hard time selling that to impartial observers at Barclays Center during last season’s Atlantic 10 Championship. It seemed as if there were Rams fans everywhere. Official numbers are not available, but anybody with a pulse and a ticket last season could’ve told you that VCU fans outnumbered other schools at the tournament by a wide margin.

They were boisterous, backed by VCU’s dynamic pep band, The Peppas, and they were impressive. VCU fans seemed to embrace the experience more fully than perhaps any other league school.

And it wasn’t just at Barclays Center. VCU fans flocked to Brooklyn in droves, flooding the city with black and gold. Die Koelner Bierhall, a German beer hall practically in the shadow of the arena, became the de facto headquarters for Rams fans. The pep band gallivanted around town in a bus wrapped in VCU graphics and the marketing slogan “Havoc Lives Here”. Normally, that means Richmond, but in March, Havoc was highly mobile. The Peppas also shoehorned their way onto the “Today Show”, blaring their eclectic mix of bombastic tunes from atop the bus. And of course, there was Spike Lee.

The extracurricular events were nice, but the real benefit to VCU fans’ willingness to follow the Rams to the Big Apple was on the court. Players may have been focused on playing the game, but they weren’t wearing blinders and earplugs. They saw the sea of humanity. They heard the brass-based rallying cries. And they say it made a difference.

“We can take a deep breath because we’re not just here by ourselves,” says junior guard Briante Weber. “[It’s] a sign of relief when we see people that come out from Richmond to all the way from wherever we are. It just shows how much our fan base follows us and how much they really love to watch us play and we appreciate it.”

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2014 ATLANTIC 10 TOURNAMENT BRACKET

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VIDEO: RAMS DOWN ST. BONAVENTURE 86-67

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JUVONTE REDDIC AND ROB BRANDENBERG

SHAKA SMART

EMOTIONS RUN HIGH IN SENIOR NIGHT VICTORY OVER BONNIES

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Seniors Juvonte Reddic (middle) and Rob Brandenberg (right) combined for 31 points Saturday in their final home games.

Seniors Juvonte Reddic (middle) and Rob Brandenberg (right) combined for 31 points Saturday in their final home games.

RICHMOND, Va. – Most VCU fans know Juvonte Reddic as an oft stone-faced giant. Outward expressions of emotion have been rare, although not unheard of in recent years.

But Saturday’s 86-67 Senior Night win over St. Bonaventure was bursting at the seams with emotion. Finally, as victory was assured, Coach Shaka Smart pulled Reddic and fellow senior Rob Brandenberg from the game with a little more than a minute to go, a thunderous ovation from 7,700 showered the players on their way to the bench. Finally, Reddic let go.

“Once coach took me out for the last time, that’s when it really hit me. As soon I sat down on the end of the bench I started crying, just tears of joy,” said Reddic.

Reddic finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds, while Brandenberg poured in 18 points, including an exclamation point dunk in the waning moments. At some point, every player will suit up for one final time at the Siegel Center, and this will be the example they’ll strive toward.

As they exited the floor for the last time, Brandenberg and Reddic were surrounded by the product of the program they helped build. The crowd was VCU’s 50th straight sellout, a mark that would have been considered absurd back in November of 2010, when Brandenberg and Reddic began their careers as Rams.

“There’s so many memories, it’s hard to choose one,” Brandenberg said. “But if I had to choose one, I’d say the fans. When I saw them come out to a game when it was a snowstorm, no school, roads were terrible, and they still packed the house, that’s when I took a chance to really appreciate that. It’s not like that at a lot of schools. I’m very fortunate.”

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