VCU head coach Shaka Smart, left,cheers on his players from the bench as they take the lead in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Davidson in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament in New York, Saturday, March 14, 2
John Minchillo
March 14, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) With payback on their minds and their injured leader cheering them on, the VCU Rams shook off a couple of runs from Davidson and surged into another conference tournament championship game.

Mo Alie-Cox muscled his way to 18 points inside and Treveon Graham provided the pop from the outside with 18 more, leading VCU past No. 24 Davidson 93-73 on Saturday and into the Atlantic 10 title game for the third straight season.

Counting its last two seasons in the Colonial Athletic Association, VCU has played in a conference championship game five straight seasons. But they have yet to take an A-10 trophy home from Brooklyn.

''I think today was a really, really good lesson for us going into tomorrow,'' VCU coach Shaka Smart said. ''We had to respond. We got down. We had to stay together. We had to buckle down on defense. And those are some of things that maybe the last couple years we didn't do as well in the championship game.''

Fifth-seeded VCU (25-9) avenged a blowout loss at Davidson last week, snapping the top-seeded Wildcats' 10-game winning streak with its best performance since losing point guard Briante Weber to a knee injury six weeks ago.

A-10 player of the year Tyler Kalinoski scored 19 points for Davidson (24-7), a day after hitting a buzzer-beater to win the Wildcats' Atlantic 10 tournament debut. The conference newcomers won the regular-season title and are hoping that's enough to get them an NCAA at-large bid

''How we ended up in the Atlantic 10 and how we finished it, I think we definitely should (be in),'' Kalinoski said.

VCU is on its way to the NCAAs no matter what happens against second-seeded Dayton on Sunday. The Rams lost their only meeting with the Flyers this season.

The 255-pound Alie-Cox was powerful in the paint against Davidson, collecting seven offensive rebounds and most of the Rams' 16 second-chance points before fouling out with 2:13 left. By that point he had done plenty of damage and the Rams fans at Barclays Center happily sent him off to a big ovation.

Graham was Mr. Outside, going 4 for 4 from 3-point range.

VCU was playing its 12th game without Weber, who went down on Jan. 31. Without Weber actually playing, that is. The senior was on the Rams' bench, his right leg in a huge black brace, sitting next to the assistant coaches or leaning up against the scorer's table during timeouts. He lifted himself up to cheer on his teammates, pumping fists, waving a yellow VCU towel and yelling encouragement.

''This is was well as we played in a long, long time,'' Smart said.

Weber was on pace to set the NCAA career steals record and he set the tone for VCU's havoc defense. The Rams went 5-5 to end the regular season without him, including an 82-55 loss at Davidson and a 59-55 home loss to Dayton.

''I think we had to get adjusted to what we have,'' Graham said. ''Nobody is going to take the place of Bri.''

The Rams said after beating Richmond in the quarterfinals Friday that playing a third straight day would be no problem. They said the memory of that rout in North Carolina would put life in their legs.

''That was real humiliating when we were down there,'' Alie-Cox said.

VCU surged in the final 12 minutes of the first half and was up by 22 with 15:19 left in the second.

Davidson was not done.

The Wildcats went on a 19-2 run that included three 3s from Kalinoski to trim the lead to 57-52 with 10:22 left.

It turned out to be Davidson's last big push. VCU rattled off the next 10 points, highlighted by a slam from Cox and a 3 from Graham, to make it 67-52 with 7:57 left.

Davidson had come from nine down in the final five minutes to beat La Salle on Friday, but the Rams pulled away.

The Wildcats raced out to a 16-4 lead in the first half. An alley-oop slam by Jordan Barham from Kalinoski was the highlight. After falling behind by 18 in the first half of their first game of the tournament, the Wildcats looked like their usual run-and-gun selves.

''Davidson came out and threw a heck of a blow early in the game,'' Smart said.

The Rams responded the way they usually do, cranking up the pressure, deflecting passes, making steals and hitting the offensive boards. And then the shots started to fall. The worst-shooting team in the A-10 made five straight 3-pointers in one stretch, including two in a row by Graham, and flipped the score by 26 points to lead 44-28 at halftime.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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