COLUMN: Bona’s recent impediment of opposing stars key to defensive success

photo by Megan Lee/The Commonwealth Times

By Jeff Uveino

DAYTON, OH — St. Bonaventure knew it needed a plan to slow down Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland.

The players knew that stopping Hyland, the Atlantic 10 player of the year, would be essential in defending VCU. They weren’t worried, however, about figuring out how they’d do it.

That task, as junior forward/center Osun Osunniyi said before the game, would be head coach Mark Schmidt’s responsibility. And, while Osunniyi and junior guard Jaren Holmes didn’t yet know on Wednesday what Schmidt’s plan for stopping Hyland would be, they knew he’d have the Bonnies ready.

“Schmidt, he’s a basketball genius,” Osunniyi said four days before Sunday’s final. “He’s going to look at film and find ways to see where (Hyland) has struggled and try to use that to our advantage.”

Holmes, despite calling Hyland a “tremendous shooter with unlimited range,” agreed with Osunniyi.

“Like (Osunniyi) said, we’ll let Schmidt deal with that,” Holmes said. “We’re just going to go out there and play. Schmidt’s going to have us ready and they’re going to have a game plan.”

Then came the final, played at UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio.

When the teams retreated to their respective locker rooms at halftime, the Bonnies led by seven points. Hyland had zero. And he was 0-of-3 from the field.

Hyland picked up three fouls in the game’s first seven minutes. Two were offensive; one defensive. The sophomore guard subsequently sat for the rest of the half.

Hyland’s first point of the game came just under over two minutes into the second half, when he got to the line and hit a pair of free throws. His first field goal didn’t come for another seven minutes, as a layup with 9:11 left in the game broke his scoreless streak from the field.

Bona eventually won the game, 74-65, and led by double digits before Hyland got going offensively. Hyland finished with a game-high 21 points but only made four field goals, shot 4-of-11 from the field and scored 11 of his points from the free-throw line.

Schmidt and the Bonnies, the A-10’s best defensive team, slowed down Hyland when it mattered. They frustrated VCU’s top scorer. While impressive, the circumstance wasn’t isolated.

SBU held Jordan Goodwin, Saint Louis’ leading scorer and a first-team all-league selection, to 11 points in its A-10 semifinal win over the Billikens. Nine of those points came in the second half, when Bona maintained a double-digit lead.

In the A-10 quarterfinals, SBU held Duquesne’s Marcus Weathers, the Dukes’ leading scorer and a second-team all-league selection, to six points.

In their final two regular season games, the Bonnies held two more first-team A-10 players, Davidson’s Kellan Grady and Dayton’s Jalen Crutcher, to two and six points, respectively.

Notice a trend?

In the last month, SBU has repeatedly limited the offensive output of opposing stars. That’s helped the team to a league-best 60.4 points allowed per game.

The only members of the A-10’s six-man first team that the Bonnies haven’t held to single-digit scoring this season are Hyland and Tre Mitchell, the UMass forward which the Bonnies did not play against this season.

The numbers are one thing. The players’ trust in Schmidt’s ability to game plan, however, is another.

Schmidt has said multiple times that he’s felt the teams that have had the most success throughout college basketball’s COVID-ridden season are those that stick together and rally around adversity. When a roster wants to play for a coach, as trusts a coach, as much as the Bonnies do Schmidt, those challenges become easier.

After winning the A-10 regular-season title and tournament on its way to a 16-4 record, ninth-seeded Bona finds itself pitted against No. 8 LSU (18-9) in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday.

If Schmidt plans to defend LSU by limiting its best player, he’ll have his hands full in doing so. Cameron Thomas, a freshman guard that will have his sights set on the NBA Draft in the near future, leads the Tigers’ offense with 22.6 points per game.

Checking in just behind Thomas are Trendon Watford (16.7 points per game) and Ja’Vonte Smart (15.9 ppg).

While we’ll learn of Schmidt’s defensive strategy against LSU on Saturday, his team’s success in limiting opposing stars this season has been undeniable down the stretch.

The nation’s eighth-best scoring offense, led by a top-20 NBA prospect, will be Schmidt’s biggest defensive challenge to date.

MBB: Bonnies win A-10 championship; punch ticket to NCAA tournament

photo by Megan Lee/The Commonwealth Times

By Jeff Uveino

DAYTON, OH — If there was a checklist for winning an Atlantic 10 championship game, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team had checked all but one box two years ago.

That final box, as junior guard Dominick Welch had said the week before this year’s final, was finishing.

SBU had came within eight minutes of an A-10 championship against Saint Louis two years ago, but fell short in the game’s final minutes.  Welch, Osun Osunniyi and Kyle Lofton, who each started that game as freshmen, made sure the same thing didn’t happen on Sunday.

The top-seeded Bonnies (16-4) built a first-half lead and didn’t give it up on their way to beating No. 2 VCU (19-7), 74-65, at UD Arena.

After sitting with four fouls for five minutes of the second half, Welch provided the dagger.

With 1:16 left in the game, the Bonnies leading by eight and the shot clock winding down, Welch pivoted away from a defender and nailed a 3-pointer.

The Bona lead became 12 points. The pro-Bona crowd that made the 400-mile trip to Dayton broke into a frenzy. And, moments later, SBU head coach Mark Schmidt raised his hands above his head as he embraced his staff, overcome with emotion.

For the second time in program history, the Bonnies won the Atlantic 10 tournament. They’ll represent the Atlantic 10 as the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

“Two years ago, four of our guys couldn’t finish,” Schmidt said. “We didn’t finish that game and we lost, and a lot of times you don’t get a second chance in life. We got a second chance, and those guys finished.”

Welch finished with 13 points while Lofton scored 23 points and handed out six assists. Perhaps the player of the game, however, and the most valuable player of the tournament, was Osun Osunniyi.

The junior forward/center finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Like his teammates that experienced 2019’s A-10 final, the 55-53 loss had been stuck in his head ever since.

“Yeah, it was on our mind,” Osunniyi said. “We were one shot away from where we are right now. That’s been on my mind, (Lofton’s) mind. The guys who came in our class that are juniors now, that’s been on our mind since day one and it was on our mind when we faced Saint Louis in the semifinals.”

Osunniyi’s presence under the rim throughout the tournament, despite not having its own column on the stat sheet, was paramount to the success of SBU’s defense.

“We didn’t change what got us (here),” Schmidt said. “We defended, we rebounded and we took care of the basketball. Against VCU, a talented team that is so well coached, if you don’t take care of the basketball… when they get numbers, it’s lethal.”

Defense, as Schmidt has said for weeks, continues to be Bona’s staple. SBU’s efforts to limit VCU leading scorer and A-10 player of the year Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland were largely successful despite Hyland’s team-high 21 points.

Hyland sat for over 10 minutes in the first half after picking up three early fouls. The sophomore guard scored all of his points in the second half, many of which came after the Bonnies had built a double-digit lead.

“The goal was to deny him the ball as much as we could,” Schmidt said. “He’s just a talented guy. One thing we didn’t do, and especially in the second half, was we fouled him too many times.”

Hyland was 4-of-11 from the field, most of his points coming from an 11-of-12 free-throw shooting performance.

“When you lose your best player, the team’s not going to be as good,” Schmidt said. “You knew that he was going to come back and be aggressive in the second half, but I thought our guys did a really good job making it hard for him.”

Hyland’s efforts brought his team within seven points midway through the second half, but Bona prevented the Rams from coming all the way back. Vince Williams Jr. tallied 12 points and nine rebounds for the Rams while Josh Banks scored 10 points.

Jaren Holmes scored nine points and pulled down seven rebounds for Bona while Jalen Adaway scored 10 points. Osunniyi, Lofton and Adaway were each included on the all-tournament team.

“It’s a special group,” Schmidt said. “Not that the other groups aren’t special, but in the moment now, I hold these guys close to my heart. They endured a lot of things this year and were able to come through.”

SBU’s second NCAA tournament in four years marks the third time that the Bonnies will go “dancing” under Schmidt. They first did it in 2012 after winning the A-10 tournament as the No. 4 seed, then received an at-large bid in 2018.

Bona received a No. 9 seed in this year’s tournament, and will play No. 8 LSU on Saturday in Indianapolis in the tournament’s first round. For Lofton, Osunniyi and many more, playing in the NCAA tournament will fulfill a childhood dream.

“Going to Indianapolis for the NCAA tournament is like a dream come true,” Lofton said. “Since kids, we’ve been working for that, and to finally live the dream is amazing.”

For Schmidt, the chance to take basketball-crazed St. Bonaventure back to the NCAA tournament is priceless. Schmidt has rebuilt the program over his 14 years as head coach, and now continues to oversee one of the most successful periods in the program’s history.

“The smiles on our guys’ faces: that’s what you coach for,” Schmidt said. “Those are the memories that will last a lifetime. You see those big smiles, and how proud and satisfied the players are. For them, this is a dream come true. When you’re playing in the backyard or down at the playground, this is what you dream of.”

Bona fans travel to Dayton for A-10 final

photo courtesy of University of Dayton

By Nic Gelyon

DAYTON, OH — It’s been a long couple of weeks for Bona fans.  

First, sadness. The Bonnies entered the Atlantic 10 tournament with heavy hearts, punctuated by the death of former St. Bonaventure University president Dr. Dennis DePerro. 

But then, elation. Blowout wins against Duquesne and St. Louis put the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team in position to do something they’ve never done before—win the Atlantic 10 championship as the one-seed in the tournament. 

Now the weekend of the A-10 championship game has finally arrived. Bona’s versus VCU.

It’s an atmosphere a true Bona fan wouldn’t want to miss. Good news for many, however, as fans will be in Dayton for Sunday’s game at UD Arena. 

But, whether you leave Saturday or Sunday for the game depends on if you want to endure a three-day quarantine. 

If you’re traveling for the game, know that the state of Ohio currently doesn’t have any COVID-19 protocols for people visiting from other states. In other words—take comfort in knowing you won’t have to quarantine upon arrival. You definitely won’t have to plan as far ahead. 

Coming back to New York could spell a different story. 

If you stay in Dayton, or anywhere in Ohio, for more than 24 hours, you may be subject to that pesky three-day quarantine upon returning home. Travelers are also advised by the state to fill out the New York state traveler health form, which can be found and filled out online at the New York State Department of Health website. 

This is all part of the New York State COVID-19 travel advisory, still in effect for any state that doesn’t border New York. 

The university also discouraged student travel to Dayton — but acknowledged it can’t prohibit it. 

“For those who do go [to the game],” the university said in an email to students, “They need to be mindful that they will need to follow COVID-19 protocols.” 

In other words—the university can’t prevent kids from going, so all they ask is that travelers stay safe. 

And since the university won’t be providing transportation to the championship this year—also  due to COVID-19 protocols—students must find their own way down to Dayton. 

For many students, that will mean driving to the game. Gas seems to be expensive in Erie, the highest prices being around $2.97 in the Flagship City. But the deeper you get into Ohio, the gas prices seem to drop. For example—gas in Columbus is as low as $2.47 in some places, as of Friday.  

You might be asking yourself—what will the experience be like when you get into UD Arena on Sunday? It’ll be an interesting experience, especially as Bonas fans haven’t been able to see a game in-person at the Reilly Center this season. 

The first thing you should know: UD Arena will be at about ten-percent capacity for the game Sunday. That means upwards of 1,300 fans could be in the stands—a far cry from the 300 that could attend regular season Flyers games. 

The executive director of UD Arena, Scott DeBolt, says, “There will be a lot of energy in the building.” 

Some other things ticket holders should know — the experience will be completely cashless. 

You won’t have to pay for parking, as the parking fee is included in your ticket price. And you won’t be able to pay cash at the concession stands, either. They only take cards.  

Obviously, the usual COVID-19 protocols will be enforced at the game. You’ll only be allowed to remove your mask when you’re actively eating or drinking at your seat; at all other times, you must be masked. 

“Wear your mask when you’re supposed to and don’t gather out in the concourse,” was the advice given by DeBolt. “Sit in your assigned seats… have a hot dog and a soda and enjoy the game.” 

As for a couple students who are going: 

Hannah Miller is a women’s basketball manager. She went to Richmond with the women’s basketball team, and so she got to experience their championship atmosphere. Still, she’s excited.

“I’m a senior, and this is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do,” Miller said. 

And, of course, who could forget ‘Captain Beer’, Dom Grecco. And don’t forget his eight friends who are tagging along.  

“We looked at each other and said, ‘we’re doing it’”, Grecco said. “We’re just going to build up all that energy we’ve missed all year and hope to put it into one game.” 

Grecco is sticking four people in one car and five in another. His cohort in buying the tickets, Noah Minton, noticed the wildly fluctuating prices of the tickets. 

“We thought about getting tickets, so I looked on Ticketmaster, Seat Geek, Vivid Seats; they were a couple dollars more on Ticketmaster, so I went back to Seat Geek,” Minton said. “But in that two minute span, I saw the prices go up another $12, and I said, ‘Dom, we got make a decision’”. 

Miller noticed the same thing when buying her tickets. “The prices kept going up minute by minute,” she said. “But we got them cheaper than they are now.” 

Bona, VCU prepare for A-10 final amidst eight-day layover

photo courtesy of Atlantic 10 conference

By Jeff Uveino & Noah Fleischman

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — The last time the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team played in the Atlantic 10 championship game, it was SBU’s third game in as many days.

This year, due to scheduling changes, the Bonnies must navigate an eight-day gap in between the tournament’s semifinals and final. How will that impact the team’s preparedness?

“We’ll see,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said.

The top-seeded Bonnies will play No. 2 VCU on Sunday at University of Dayton Arena. Despite an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and SBU’s second A-10 championship in program history on the line, it’s business as usual for Schmidt’s side leading up to the final.

“We go about it just like we usually do,” Schmidt said. “If we had a week off, and we have weeks off during the season with the bye week, we approach it like that. Give our guys a couple days off and don’t go crazy in practice and try to build so we’re at our peak on Sunday at 1 o’clock.”

After back-to-back wins over No. 9 Duquesne and No. 4 Saint Louis on Friday and Saturday to advance to the final, Schmidt said that his team took Sunday and Monday off. A light Tuesday practice preceded a Wednesday practice in which the Bonnies will “ramp it up” for the rest of the week, Schmidt said.

“We don’t want to win the practices, we want to win the game on Sunday,” Schmidt said. “You’ve got to be careful, it’s late in the season, you don’t go long with practice. You try to make sure we know what we’re going to do against VCU and how we’re going to guard them and so forth, but you be careful that you don’t wear our guys out.”

For VCU, the eight days in between the two games was the best case scenario. Head coach Mike Rhoades said his team spent Sunday, Monday and Tuesday rehabbing injuries in the training room with athletic trainer Dennis Williams. 

“I feel as though it can help us rejuvenate,” sophomore guard Bones Hyland said of the gap between the semifinal and championship.

The Rams were dealing with injuries during the A-10 tournament in Richmond, including Hyland returning from a foot sprain. Junior forward Vince Williams exited VCU’s quarterfinal game against No. 7 Dayton with back spasms, but played in the semifinal game against No. 4 Davidson. 

Rhoades said the team prepared for St. Bonaventure during the week, but they also remained focused on getting healthy. 

Each team seeks its second A-10 championship in school history, as VCU has amassed a 1-4 record in A-10 finals while SBU has gone 1-3.

The Bonnies and Rams are scheduled to tip-off at UD Arena at 1 p.m. Sunday in a game that will be broadcasted on CBS.

MBB: Recapping VCU’s, Bona’s path to A-10 final

photo courtesy of Atlantic 10 conference

By Jeff Uveino & Ben Malakoff

RICHMOND, VA — For the first time since 2013, the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball championship game will feature the tournament’s top two seeds.

The finalists aren’t unfamiliar with each other, either, as No. 1 St. Bonaventure and No. 2 VCU split a pair of regular-season matchups. In each game, the home team came away victorious.

Now, the rubber match will decide which side receives the A-10’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

For VCU, a win would improve upon its 1-4 record in A-10 championship games since joining the league after the 2011-12 season.

After going 10-4 in the conference schedule and almost a week off, No. 2 VCU faced Dayton at the Siegel Center, the team’s home court. Prior to the quarterfinal matchup, sophomore guard Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland was cleared from his foot injury and put back into the starting lineup after missing two games.

The A-10 player of the year posted 30 points and 10 rebounds. The Rams scored 38 points in the paint compared to Dayton’s 22 and never trailed throughout the game, winning 73-68.

In the semifinals, VCU faced No. 3 Davidson, the team the Rams fell to in the last game of the season. On average, both teams allowed opponents to score less than 65 points per game in the regular season.

In the first half, the strong defense continued from both sides. VCU shot 31% to Davidsons 17%.

In the second half, the Rams found their stride when redshirt-senior forward Corey Douglas scored six-straight points. Freshman guard Jamir Watkins added on 10 points including two crucial threes, helping VCU shoot 65% in the half.

Hyland led VCU with 12 points as the Rams beat the Wildcats, 64-52, and reached the championship game for the first time since 2017.

“I’m just really proud of our guys,” VCU head coach Mike Rhoades said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud of a team’s approach, development and how they move forward throughout the year in all this craziness and it’s been fun coaching them. I just think we kept improving and we’ve been about the right stuff.”

St. Bonaventure’s path to its second A-10 title game in three years went through two familiar opponents, as the Bonnies bested No. 9 Duquesne in the quarterfinals before bullying No. 4 Saint Louis in the semis.

Bona had beat Duquesne twice already during the regular season before its 75-59 victory at VCU’s Siegel Center. The Bonnies are now 8-1 against the Dukes since the 2017-18 season.

A day later, Bona snapped a three-game losing streak to SLU by blowing out the Billikens, 71-53.

Osun Osunniyi anchored Bona’s defense, which allows an A-10 best 60.2 points per game, with seven blocks against Saint Louis. The junior forward/center was named A-10 defensive player of the year on Wednesday.

The Bonnies and Rams will tip-off at 1 p.m. on Sunday and the game will be broadcasted nationally on CBS.

“We’ve accomplished one goal, but that second goal is still out there,” Schmidt said. “Our approach is to be the best we can be from 1-3 p.m. on Sunday. “

WBB: Bonnies fall to Davidson in first round of A-10 tournament

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Dustyn Green

RICHMOND, VA — One month ago, the St. Bonaventure women’s basketball game beat Davidson on back-to-back nights.

The Wildcats came ready to get revenge on Wednesday, however, winning by a score of 69-61 in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament.

Davidson was led by Cassidy Gould’s 25 points, 19 of which came in the first half.

“Gould is a really good player,” Bona head coach Jesse Fleming said. “Her teammates did a really good job of finding her today, especially in the first half.”

Davidson head coach Gayle Folks also had strong things to say about Gould’s performance. 

“She does not care about a single statistic, just the win or loss,” Folks said. “She is probably the most selfless player I have ever been around.” 

Gould’s teammate, sophomore Adelaide Fuller, followed up her effort with 17 points. Davidson senior guard Katie Turner, who scored 11 points, said that intensity was a key difference between this matchup and the teams’ first two contests.

“We went in with even additional intensity, and wanted revenge,” Turner said. “I hate losing, and I know the rest of these girls do too.” 

St. Bonaventure was led by 18 points from Asianae Johnson and 17 points by Tori Harris. Johnson went to work late in the first half after a slow start. 

“I was trying to give our team a kick start, since we were not ready,” she said. 

Fleming took much of the blame for the loss during his postgame press conference. 

“I need to do a better job preparing us for the zone,” Fleming said. “(Davidson) saw we did not hand the zone well. (They) changed a lot of things; maybe we should have rotated help on Gould.” 

SBU was out-rebounded 45-35 in the game. SBU ends its season with a 6-14 record in a season shortened by COVID-19.

“Practices were fun because of the competitive nature of the team,” Fleming said.  “I am really excited, and I really like our core.” 

Fleming said that he’s not yet prepared to look forward to next season. 

“I just want to sit back and appreciate these kids,” he said. “They are really hard workers, and they are really hurting today.”

Schmidt, Osunniyi among Bona all-conference honorees

photo by Megan Lee/The Commonwealth Times

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — The team had already won the Atlantic 10 regular-season championship and advanced to the conference’s tournament final.

Now, after individual all-conference awards were announced on Wednesday, it’s no surprise that the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team received numerous honors.

Bona head coach Mark Schmidt was named A-10 coach of the year for the second time in his career (2016) after leading the team to a 13-4 regular-season record and 11-4 A-10 mark.

“Believe me, it’s not my award, it’s our program’s award,” Schmidt said. “My assistant coaches do an unbelievable job. It’s special for our program, and I’m humbled to be selected by my peers to be the coach of the year, but there are a lot of people that are involved. It’s not just a one-man show, as everybody knows.”

Bona junior forward/center Osun Osunniyi was named A-10 defensive player of the year, the first time in program history that a Bonnie has received that recognition.

“Even if I didn’t win the award, I know I have my teammates’ respect of being a great defender,” Osunniyi said. “I’m not really big on personal accolades or achievements… I’m focused on Sunday.”

Osunniyi leads the A-10 with 2.8 blocks per game, totaling 54 on the season. Schmidt complimented Osunniyi’s elevated confidence this season, and noted associate head coach Steve Curran’s efforts to work with him in the post.

“His defense has always been ahead of his offense, much more in his freshman and sophomore years,” Schmidt said. He’s much more aggressive, confident, and his footwork is getting better.”

Bona got three all-conference nods, as junior guard Kyle Lofton was named first-team all-league for the second time in his career. This is the second-straight year that Lofton, who averages 14.2 points and 5.5 assists per game, received first-team honors.

Osunniyi and junior guard Jaren Holmes were each named second-team all-league, while Osunniyi’s inclusion on the A-10’s all-defensive team marks the third time in as many years that he has received that honor.

Holmes, who was also named to the A-10’s all-academic team, averages 13.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Osunniyi has been no slouch on offense, either, averaging 10.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.

“It’s just a great feeling knowing what we’ve accomplished so far, but also knowing that the job’s not finished yet,” said Holmes, whose Bonnies will play VCU on Sunday for the A-10 championship. “We have a lot more to accomplish as a group and as a family.”

COLUMN: Bona, VCU’s spots in NCAA field secured before A-10 title game

photo by Megan Lee/The Commonwealth Times

By Jeff Uveino

DAYTON, OH — Win, and you’re in.

That’s the premise of the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball tournament each year.

Regardless of its regular-season performance beforehand, a conference tournament championship secures a team’s spot in the NCAA tournament field. While that remains true for this year’s A-10 championship game, the stakes of the game are different than in recent years.

Both finalists have done enough to deserve a spot in the 68-team NCAA bracket. For No. 1 St. Bonaventure and No. 2 VCU, Sunday’s title game at University of Dayton Arena likely won’t determine whether each side gets to play in the NCAA tournament.

Instead, this year’s final will be for bragging rights, for NCAA seeding, and, for SBU, the chance to make history as the second team in program history to be crowned A-10 champions.

When the Bonnies arrived in Richmond last week for their first two A-10 tournament games, their postseason prospectus looked different than it did after SBU posted back-to-back convincing wins over No. 9 Duquesne and No. 4 Saint Louis in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively.

Now, as the A-10 regular-season champion that has advanced to the conference’s championship game, it would take an 1800s-style Wild West robbery by the NCAA selection committee to leave the Bonnies out of the tournament.

As of Monday, the NCAA’s “NET” ranking, the largely mysterious, overarching ranking that the committee prioritizes, ranks Bona 27th in the country, and VCU 35th. Ken Pomeroy, famous for his “KenPom” rankings, also has the Bonnies at 27th, while VCU checks in at 43rd.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, one of the nation’s most popular “bracketologists,” predicts the Bonnies to be a ninth-seed in the tournament, while listing the Rams as a No. 11 seed. Lunardi said on Sunday that he anticipates Bona will be in the NCAA field whether it wins the A-10 title game or not.

So, looking at the situation realistically, both A-10 finalists will be playing in the NCAA tournament whether they’re crowned league champions or not. This differs from SBU’s last trip to the A-10 final, when it needed to win the 2019 game to be included in the NCAA bracket.

The Bonnies lost that game, ending their season at the Barclays Center as abruptly as they had gotten there. The year before, Davidson upset SBU in the A-10 semifinals before upsetting top-seeded Rhode Island a day later to win the tournament. If the Wildcats had not done so, they would have been left out.

This is the first time since 2013 that the tournament’s top two seeds will play in its final. Bona’s only A-10 championship came the year before that, when the Andrew Nicholson-led Bonnies beat Xavier in the final to clinch an NCAA tournament spot that they wouldn’t have received without winning the tournament.

This year, that’s not the case. SBU has built a sufficient tournament resume over the last three months, compiling a 15-4 record while finishing 11-4 in the A-10 during the regular season. VCU’s situation is similar, as the Rams are 19-6 overall with a 10-4 A-10 record.

This year, it’s about pride and the chance to become a champion. For three Bona starters, it’s the chance to avenge 2019’s A-10 final loss.

The 2021 A-10 champion will receive the immediate satisfaction of knowing that it has reserved the league’s coveted automatic NCAA bid. The runner-up, barring an inexplicable snub, will hear its name called just hours later during the NCAA selection show.