RICHMOND, Va. – Throughout his three years at VCU, Head Coach Shaka Smart has been asked the question, "What are your hobbies?", about a million times. Every time, he replies with nearly the exact same answer of, "Basketball and my family are only hobbies for me."
After Monday night, dancing can be added to that list of hobbies as the VCU men's basketball team earned its second straight trip to "The Big Dance" with a 59-56 win over top-seeded Drexel in the CAA Championship game in front of a sold-out crowd at the Richmond Coliseum.
"I can't tell you how happy I am for this group of guys that all year long came to work, ready to get better every time they stepped on the court and that's exactly what happened," Smart said. "I give a ton of credit to Drexel, who is a phenomenal team with an outstanding coach in Bruiser Flint. There's no question that they are an NCAA Tournament team."
Junior Troy Daniels went a perfect 4-for-4 from the charity stripe in the final 20 seconds and Darius Theus provided outstanding defense on a desperate three from Drexel as the Rams held on for their fourth CAA Championship since 2004.
"We practice free throws at the end of each practice, I was just trying to do my job and knock them down," Daniels said.
In 120 minutes of play during the CAA Tournament, VCU trailed for a total of 1:44, thanks to a defense that forced their opponents into 60 turnovers.
"All year long, we've talked about how it's going to come down to defense and that's what got us to this point," senior Bradford Burgess said. "It doesn't matter if we're making shots or not, if we're focused on the defensive end, we're going to have a chance to win every game."
It was back-and-forth action to start the contest, but three straight buckets by Tournament MVP Darius Theus gave the Rams a seven-point cushion at 16-9 with 9:03 left in the first stanza.
A suffocating first-half defense forced Drexel, who entered the night as the CAA's best team in terms of not turning it over, into 12 first-half turnovers. A three-pointer from Daniels with under a minute to play send the Black & Gold into the locker room with a 16-point lead for the second straight game, 35-19.
Damion Lee and Chris Fouch regrouped the Dragons in the second half, combining for 26 poitns and bringing Drexel within one in the final minute after Fouch connected on a trey from the corner.
With the lead down to one, Daniels stepped to the line and knocked down both free-throws with 12 seconds remaining. The suffocating defense showed up for the final possession and Frantz Massenat's hail mary three-point attempt was off the mark, sending VCU to the Big Dance for the second consecutive season.
"This is what we worked so hard for all year long," sophomore Rob Brandenberg said. "All those early morning workouts, extra shots, extra reps in the weight room, this makes everything worth it. This is why you play college basketball."
The ninth-youngest team in the country, VCU, tied a school-record with their 28th victory of the season, tying the 2006-07 and 2010-11 squads.
Brandenberg and Burgess earned spots on the CAA All-Tournament team, while Theus was named the Tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
VCU will now have the week off leading up to Selection Sunday on March 11th. The NCAA Tournament selection show will air at 6 p.m. on CBS.