p. RICHMOND, Va. – For the third straight day, the Tribe needed a last-second basket to win.
For the third straight game, the College got it, as the Tribe defeated Virginia Commonwealth University 56-54 in the semifinals of the CAA tournament, putting the Tribe just one win away from an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.
“I think the neat part for me is it’s been three different guys in the tournament and that’s what we’ve done all year long,” Shaver said.
With 23.2 seconds remaining, Head Coach Tony Shaver called a 30-second timeout, setting the stage for the Tribe’s final possession. Once again, Shaver put the ball in the hands of a senior. Today, senior forward Laimis Kisielius produced the game-winner on a leaner that he kissed off the glass and sent home with three seconds left.
Rams Head Coach Anthony Grant instructed his team to setup, so that Michael Anderson could send length-of-the-court pass to Larry Sanders near the foul line. Tribe sophomore forward Danny Sumner harassed Anderson as he launched his pass that found Sanders, but more toward the corner by the baseline than intended. Sanders quickly found Brandon Rozzell for a last-ditch attempt from the beyond the arc that fell short, sending the College to its first-ever CAA title game.
“Just an amazing win for our club. I don’t know what else to say,” Shaver said. “I think to beat VCU, who has proven over the last three months they’re the best team in this league, [and] to beat them in Richmond is quite an accomplishment in my opinion.”
Kisielius’s basket with three seconds left increased his scoring total on the day to a game-high 23 points. In the second half alone, Kisielius had 15 points, as he and sophomore forward Danny Sumner carried the Tribe down the stretch.
With the College trailing 43-39 at the 9:10 mark, Shaver used his first timeout of the second half and sent senior guard Nathan Mann back onto the floor, after sitting on the bench for over seven minutes with four fouls. Although Mann did not score down the stretch, he gave the Tribe another ball-handler to help break VCU’s constant full-court pressure, allowing Kisielius and Sumner to operate in the half court.
The duo combined for the Tribe’s final 17 points, including 12 straight during the College’s 12-0 run that pushed the Tribe to its largest lead of the game of eight at 51-43. Sumner sandwiched Kisielius’s two treys with three-point plays, drawing fouls on VCU guard Jamal Shuler each time. His first basket came after posting up Shuler, while his second came after blowing by Shuler down the baseline for a layup.
“He’s been sensational,” Shaver said. “It’s hard to imagine a sophomore playing as well as he has in the last three days.”
After Sumner drove past Shuler for an old-fashioned three-point play, the Tribe went scoreless for 5:56, allowing the Rams to knot the game at 51-51 when guard Eric Maynor buried a three-pointer.
“It wouldn’t be our basketball team right now if we didn’t have a five or six minute stretch without scoring,” Shaver said. “We wouldn’t know how to treat the game if that didn’t happen to us right now.”
Fortunately for the Tribe, Kisielius drained a trey of his own, snapping the College out of its scoreless streak and giving the Tribe a 54-51 lead with 50 seconds left. But Shuler answered with a deep three-pointer of his own that tied the game at 54-54 with 40 seconds left.
Then, Kisielius delivered again, driving toward the basket and banking home the game-winner.
Kisielius’s 23 points gave him his first 20-point performance since erupting for a career-high 26 against Old Dominion Jan. 26.
Meanwhile, Sumner continued his strong tournament play, tallying 19 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and zero turnovers in 39 minutes.
For the second straight game, Sumner and Kisielius carried the Tribe to victory, combining for 42 of the College’s 56 points.
The College faces George Mason University Monday at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN. Mason defeated the University of North Carolina–Wilmington 53-41 to earn its second-straight trip to the championship game.