WASHINGTON — Still looking for its first victory in the NCAA tournament since Stephen Curry led the way, Davidson is the Atlantic 10 tournament champion after beating No. 25 Rhode Island in the conference final 58-57 on Sunday behind Kellan Grady‘s 17 points.
Bubble teams across the land could not have been pleased to see Davidson (21-11) pull through, because the Wildcats were not going to join in the March Madness fun with a loss Sunday. The top-seeded Rams (25-7), though, will be in the bracket despite being defeated, so there will be one fewer bid for at-large hopefuls.
Davidson won despite going nearly 13 minutes in the second half without making a field goal, an 0-for-11 drought that somehow did not prevent the Wildcats from celebrating at game’s end. Davidson hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2015 — and hasn’t won a March Madness game since the Curry-led 2008 squad pulled off victories over Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin before bowing out against Kansas in the Elite Eight.
Peyton Aldridge, the A-10 co-player of the year, had 13 points and seven rebounds Sunday for third-seeded Davidson, which was playing in its first conference final since joining the league in 2014 from the Southern Conference.
E.C. Matthews led the way with 20 points and eight rebounds for Rhode Island, which was trying to win a second consecutive conference tournament title.
When Matthews sank a 3-pointer with a little more than 3½ minutes left, it closed an 11-point run that put Rhode Island ahead 56-52. That coincided with Davidson’s long stretch without a bucket.
Grady ended that gap by hitting a baseline floater to give Davidson the lead at 58-57 with 74 seconds to go — and neither team would score again.
It was a rough shooting day for both teams, particularly in the second half, when Davidson made 29 percent and Rhode Island 31 percent.
Davidson: Needed this victory for an NCAA bid, given that it entered the A-10 tourney with an RPI of 74, a 108th ranking in strength of schedule and a 3-6 record against Quadrant 1 teams. Now not only do the Wildcats get to play on, but they probably took away an at-large berth from someone else.
Rhode Island: A conference championship would have been nice, but a trip to the NCAA tournament is going to happen, anyway. The Rams are ranked, have an RPI of 14 and played a nonconference schedule that was among the toughest in the country.