RICHMOND, Va. — Frank Hassell scored 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds and Old Dominion withstood a furious second-half rally by Virginia Commonwealth on Monday night and defended its Colonial Athletic Association tournament title with a 70-65 victory.
Kent Bazemore added 14 points as the Monarchs (27-6) won their ninth consecutive — and the league’s automatic NCAA tournament berth, likely depriving the CAA of its first three-team contingent in the field of 68.
Regular season champion George Mason is expected to receive an at-large invitation.
The Rams (23-11) trailed by 18 in the second half, but got within 55-54 with 4:26 left before the Monarchs scored on consecutive possessions, rebuilding the lead to five, and hung on.
Bradford Burgess led VCU with 19 points and Jamie Skeen had 18.
The Rams had lost four of five when they arrived at the tournament and thought they needed to cut down the nets to make the NCAA field. But after beating Drexel on a buzzer-beater and then handing top-seeded George Mason its first loss in 17 games, they came up short against their rival.
Trailing 46-28 with 16 1/2 minutes left, VCU went on a defense-led 26-9 run that had the crowd in its home city roaring at a deafening level, even after the Monarchs answered with their consecutive putbacks.
As Ben Finney stepped to the line with 15.3 seconds left and his team ahead 69-62, the smaller contingent of Monarchs fans chanted “O-D-U! O-D-U!” to celebrate the Monarchs’ league-best sixth tournament title.
Old Dominion led 50-39 and had ended an 11-0 burst by VCU with consecutive baskets by Hassell, but the Rams rallied again.
Joey Rodriguez hit a 3-pointer, Skeen followed a free throw with a putback and then made a reverse layup and was fouled. The free throw pulled the Rams within 51-47. Hassell’s basket pushed the lead back to 53-47, but Burgess hit a pair of free throws and then followed a miss with a tip-in, and it was 53-51 with 5 minutes left.
Chris Cooper’s first field goal doubled the lead, but Burgess hit a 3-pointer from the left corner, cutting it to one before Cooper scored on a tip-in, and Bazemore followed with another. The Monarchs extended their advantage to seven in the closing minutes to win the season’s third game between the state rivals.
Leading 39-26, the Monarchs opened the second half on a 7-2 run to open their largest lead at 46-28. But with their NCAA hopes fading fast, the Rams responded, sparked in part by their more urgent fullcourt defense.
Rob Brandenberg hit a jumper, Burgess followed with a putback and Skeen dunked off an inbound play. With the VCU defense getting nine consecutive stops, a 3-pointer by Brandon Rozzell and a putback by Burgess made it 46-39, capping an 11-0 spurt, and the crowd in VCU’s home city grew deafening.
But a timeout seemed to settle Old Dominion, and two baskets in a row by Hassell halted the Rams’ momentum, rebuilt the lead to 50-39 and once again put VCU in position to have to succeed at both ends.
The first half included a scary moment when Hassell elbowed the Rams’ Ed Nixon in the face after grabbing a rebound, dropping Nixon to the floor. Hassell was called for an intentional foul, but Rodriguez missed both free throws, and Keyon Carter’s basket for the Monarchs shortly thereafter launched a 10-3 run.