Mitchell, Evans lead SLU to first A-10 title

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Mitchell, Evans lead SLU to first A-10 title

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No. 15 Saint Louis University staved off a feverish second half charge from No. 25 VCU to hang on for 62-56 victory and claim the school’s first Atlantic 10 conference championship.

After registering a total of 16 points against Charlotte and Butler, senior Kwamain Mitchell erupted for a team-high 19 points on 7 of 9 shooting, including three 3-pointers. The third-team All-Conference pick also chipped in three steals and a pair of assists.

Tournament MVP Dwayne Evans finished with 16 points on 4 of 6 shooting (8-11 from the foul line) with seven rebounds, an assist and a steal.

VCU’s Treveon Graham led all scorers with 20 points to go with 12 rebounds and an assist. He, along with Juvonte Reddic (15 points), were the only Rams to score in double-figures.

SLU led by 13 following a pair of free throws from Evans at the 11:45 mark.

With a double-digit lead and numerous Rams in foul trouble, the Bills appeared poised to blow the game open. But the second-seeded Rams, who had mustered just two points over the last five minutes, refused to go away quietly, using a Graham 3-pointer to stifle the momentum and set its trademark HAVOC defense into motion. Feeding off the energy of a raucous, mostly black-and-yellow clad crowd, VCU went to work, forcing turnovers on four of SLU’s next five possessions to key a 13-1 run that slashed the score to 46-45 with 8:53 left.

Reddic tallied five of his 15 points over that 3-minute stretch, capping it it off by intercepting Mike McCall Jr.’s errant pass and taking it coast-to-coast for the two-handed slam to pull VCU within one.

In need of a bucket to at least slow the Rams’ ferocious charge, the Billiken offense set itself, working the ball around the perimeter until senior Cody Ellis drained a wide-open 3-pointer after freshman Melvin Johnson fell down on defense. He responded again for SLU minutes later, this time with a jumper to push the margin back to three after Graham’s triple made it a one-point game.

Mitchell knocked down a contested 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down to give the Billikens a 54-48 lead with just under five minutes left.

VCU had a chance to tie the score at 54 with less than three minutes left, but Rob Brandenberg missed an open 3-pointer and Ellis made him pay, knocking down a triple from the corner to extend SLU’s lead.

Saint Louis U. finished the game shooting 45 percent (18-40) from the field with 13 assists. While the team’s success rate at the free throw line (21-33) was rather lackluster, Evans was 8 for 11 and Rob Loe was 5 for 6.

The Rams were limited to just 33.9 percent (19-56) from the field and were a woeful 3 for 18 (16.7 percent) from behind the arc. They out-rebound the Bills 32-30 and won the turnover battle 17-13.

After committing turnovers on two of its first three possessions en route to an early 2-0 deficit, SLU came to life, using a 10-0 run to take the lead. The Rams sputtered on offense in the first half, due in large part to the Billikens ability to take care of the ball. SLU did not commit a turnover for a 16-minute stretch spanning both halves.

This was the Billikens’ first appearance in the A-10 title game since joining the conference in 2005-06. Their only other conference tournament crown came in 2000 in Conference USA.