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:

RAMS STAND TALL ON A-10 SUCCESS, NCAA FUTURE

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Shaka Smart said Sunday he's proud of VCU's performance in the A-10 this season.

Shaka Smart said Sunday he’s proud of VCU’s performance in the A-10 this season.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – As Shaka Smart spoke, his voice betrayed him. After three emotional Atlantic 10 Tournament games, it cracked and wheezed. Much like his team, Smart left everything, including his voice, on the Barclays Center floor.

The Rams stellar inaugural A-10 season came to a close Sunday in an emotional 62-56 loss to Saint Louis in the league’s championship game. VCU, which had been overrun by a poised Billikens team in St. Louis a couple of weeks ago, battled until the final horn. The Rams refused to let Saint Louis walk to a title with a repeat performance.

But an A-10 title was not in the cards for the Rams this year. That honor goes to a tough Saint Louis team that overcame the death of its coach, Rick Majerus, earlier this year and banded together. The Billikens came into the game ranked 16th nationally, and they’re at least that good, if not better. The Rams can keep the chins high.

“We came at them, they took a punch from us. They responded, and that’s why they’re the champions,” said Smart afterwards.

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A-10 CHAMPIONSHIP PHOTOESSAY

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YOUR DAILY SPIKE LEE UPDATE

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Yup. He’s ready.

TROY DANIELS FORTIFIES LEGACY, SENDS RAMS TO A-10 TITLE GAME

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Senior Troy Daniels knocked down 6-of-9 threes Saturday and finished with 20 points.

Senior Troy Daniels knocked down 6-of-9 threes Saturday and finished with 20 points.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Shaka Smart tried to warn us. Troy Daniels is a stone-cold gunner from beyond the 3-point arc.

Those aren’t Smart’s actual words. He said something more like, “Troy Daniels is the best shooter I’ve ever coached,” many, many times during the senior’s career. But I like my version better. Because on Saturday, Daniels answered the call for the Rams in one of, if not the biggest spots in his career, so I used more interesting adjectives.

Behind the Roanoke senior’s 20 points – most importantly his 6-of-9 three-point shooting – VCU withstood UMass and secured a 71-62 win in the Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinals Saturday night at Barclays Center.

The victory sends VCU, playing in its inaugural season in the A-10, to a Championship Game match-up with 16th-ranked Saint Louis on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Daniels’ lights-out shooting was the kind of performance that showed everybody why Smart was comfortable placing such a strong label on his senior during his career.

“He’s just a great shooter,” Smart said of Daniels, who has hit 240 career 3-pointers. “He’s the best shooter I’ve ever coached. He’s always been terrific in practice, but his first couple of years he had a hard time playing with the confidence to go out and shoot the ball in. Today he did, and all year he has and that’s why he’s one of the top single-season 3-point shooter in Atlantic 10 history.

“We need him to make threes because that’s a big part of what we do. I think it fits in well with our style of play and our guys do a nice job of finding him.”

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VCU-UMASS HALFTIME UPDATE

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HALFTIME SCORE: VCU 35, UMass 34

Spike Lee returned to courtside for Saturday’s game. He ditched his lime green sweatshirt and wore a gold VCU Rams t-shirt.

Rafael Putney two big blocked shots, one that leads to a three in transition to make it 16-8 UMass.

Cady Lalanne opened the game 4-of-4 from the field for the Minutemen as UMass took a 20-11 lead in the first 10 minutes. However, Lalanne picked up his second foul with 6:21 left in the half.

However, VCU staged a furious comeback behind its defense and long-range shooting. After scoring 15 points in the first 15 minutes, the Rams staged an 11-0 run over the next three minutes. Troy Daniels his three straight 3-pointers to start the run and Briante Weber punctuated the blitz with a steal and tomahawk dunk.

Daniels hit 4-of-5 from deep and scored 12 points to lead the Rams in the first. Weber knocked down 4-of-6 shots and had eight points. Much like Friday, Darius Theus started slow, then scored 10 points as the half drew on.

Lalanne led UMass with 10 points in the first. UMass turned the ball over nine times in the first half, VCU just four.

VCU shot .371 (13-of-35) in the first, including 5-of-11 from three. UMass shot .462 (12-of-26).

THIS IS JUST THE BEST THING EVER

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VCU-UMASS PREGAME NOTES

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Brooklyn native Chaz Williams is averaging 22.0 points and 6.5 assists in two A-10 Tournament games.

Brooklyn native Chaz Williams is averaging 22.0 points and 6.5 assists in two A-10 Tournament games.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Nearly a month ago today, to the day, VCU and UMass played a basketball game that nearly set the Siegel Center floor on fire.

The game, won by VCU 86-68 (box score), matched the two highest scoring teams in the Atlantic 10 and practically begged them to play at terminal velocity. They were all but too happy to comply. For a half, UMass matched VCU’s energy and stood tall against the Rams’ Havoc defense.

Then VCU blew UMass’ doors off.

The Minutemen led 42-37 at halftime, but within minutes of the second period, the outcome was clear. VCU scored the first eight points of the second half and eventually ripped off a 21-1 blitz behind a swarming full court press. By the 13:49 mark, the Rams had taken a five-point deficit and turned it into a 58-43 lead. Game over.

Saturday, they’ll meet again in the Atlantic 10 semifinals at Barclays Center. The sixth-seeded Minutemen topped George Washington Thursday before upsetting third-seeded Temple Friday night 79-74 to reach the league’s final four.

UMass (21-10) will be playing its third game in three days. Minutemen star and Brooklyn native Chaz Williams has played 38 and 40 minutes the last two games. Meanwhile, the Rams are coming off an 82-79 win over Saint Joseph’s in which no player exceeded 29 minutes. Given the pace at which both teams play, it’ll be interesting to see if UMass will have the legs for another track meet.

Williams, generously listed at 5-foot-9, has been simply brilliant in the tournament so far. He’s averaging 22.0 points and 6.5 assists in two games at Barclays. But on Feb. 14 in Richmond, the Rams forced Williams into a 1-of-7 shooting night and held him to six points. He also turned the ball over six times. In all, VCU forced 24 turnovers that night and scored 28 points of those errors.

The Rams will push the pace once again Saturday, and there’s no reason to think the Minutemen won’t want to do the same. A tiger isn’t going to change its stripes this late in the season. Williams wore down in the last meeting under VCU’s constant pressure and had difficulty with the Rams’ long, athletic guards.

Treveon Graham led the Rams on Feb. 14 with 19 points, while Melvin Johnson added 18.

OF NOTE

  • UMass 6-8 senior forward Terrell Vinson is averaging 14.5 points in two tournament games.
  • The Minutemen are long at every position, other than point guard, where the diminutive Williams is entrenched. That length did give VCU trouble in the first game, as UMass blocked 10 shots, including five by 6-10 center Cady Lalanne and four by 6-9 Raphiael Putney.
  • UMass turned the ball over 19 times Friday night against Temple.
  • The Minutemen average 13.8 turnovers per game, which ranks 11th in the A-10. UMass is 166th nationally in offensive turnover percentage.
  • UMass ranks 19th in the country in adjusted tempo. VCU is 64th. Buckle your seat belt.

QUOTABLE
“I heard the fans. I think it’s going to be a battle, who can have the most fans here tomorrow.” – UMass Coach Derek Kellogg.

VIDEO: VCU BEATS SAINT JOSEPH’S

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RAMS’ YOUTH, BENCH HELP DELIVER A-10 QUARTERFINAL WIN

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Freshman Melvin Johnson (12 points) was one of several of VCU's young reserves who were key Thursday.

Freshman Melvin Johnson (12 points) was one of several of VCU’s young reserves who were key Thursday.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – There was freshman Justin Tuoyo, all alone on the right wing. He’d barely played the last month and had missed 12 of his previous 14 three-pointers this season. From behind my position, a Saint Joseph’s fan, who had apparently done some advance scouting, shouted, “He can’t shoot a three, let him shoot it.”

Tuoyo promptly sized up the three and canned it.

Instead of hesitating or letting nerves overcome him on a big stage, the Atlantic 10 Tournament quarterfinals, Tuoyo stuck to the aggressive, attacking principles that Rams’ Coach Shaka Smart preaches.

At the time the bucket didn’t seem terribly significant. It gave the Rams a 64-47 lead with 8:11 remaining. But Saint Joseph’s, namely Carl Jones (29 points) and Langston Galloway (25 points), wouldn’t quit and managed to whittle the final margin to 82-79.

After the game, Smart was quick to remind Tuoyo of that bucket.

“I told him in the locker room after the game, I know it’s just one shot, but I don’t know if you noticed, but we won by three, and you hit a three,” Smart said. “So we needed every basket, and I think overall, just the contribution that he made in 14 minutes says a lot about his future.”

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