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, 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. “

VCU gets revenge over St. Bonaventure; takes over A-10 lead at home

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Anthony Goss

RICHMOND, VA —After a season-best offensive output against La Salle earlier in the week, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team was challenged in a physical rematch with a fellow NCAA Tournament hopeful on Friday.  

The Bonnies (10-3, 8-3 A-10) fell just a possession short to the VCU Rams (15-4, 8-2 A-10) in a 67-64 defeat at the Siegel Center on Friday.  

From the opening tip, Jalen Adaway was in rhythm offensively for SBU. Adaway scored Bona’s first nine points, as it grabbed a 9-4 lead with 13:31 remaining in the first half. He would go on to lead all scorers with 23 points and added eight rebounds to his stat line.   

The game went back and forth in the opening frame, and at the under-four minute timeout, the Bonnies and Rams were locked at 24. With 3:33 remaining in the first half, Na’Shon “Bones” Hyland hit a three-point jumper that began a 9-2 VCU run to secure a 33-26 halftime lead.  

“They’re a good defensive team,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said. “They deny stuff, they play physical, so we knew it was going to be a challenge.” 

Fouls plagued the Bona attack early, with second-leading scorer Jaren Holmes picking up his second foul less than four minutes into the game. St. Bonaventure committed 24 fouls in total, and all SBU starters finished with at least three fouls. 

The VCU momentum carried into the second half, and less than three minutes after the break, the VCU lead expanded to 43-31.  

“If the game was lost, the game was lost in the first four or five minutes of the second half,” Schmidt said. 

After falling behind, St. Bonaventure found success going inside to Osun Osunniyi. With 9:18 remaining, the Ram lead was cut to 53-51.  

Osunniyi finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and five blocks, but fouled out with 3:10 remaining in the game. Dominick Welch accounted for 10 points and Kyle Lofton had eight points on only six shots.  

The Rams kept the Bonnies at a distance though, as Bonnies could not pull closer than a two-point deficit the rest of the game. With less than 10 seconds to play, a missed free throw by Vince Williams Jr gave the Bonnies a chance to send the game into overtime, but Welch missed a potential game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer.  

“We had a shot to tie the game,” Schmidt said. “It’s a difficult place to play, but we were right there.” 

Despite the Bonnies shooting 44% from the field compared to 36% from the Rams, the havoc presented by VCU made a difference, as the Bonnies accounted for 15 turnovers compared to 11 from the Rams. The Rams nearly doubled SBU on the offensive glass as well, beating St. Bonaventure 19-10. 

“From an offensive standpoint, we shot a higher percentage,” Schmidt said. “They got more shots because of the offensive rebounding.” 

Second chance points proved critical in this close matchup, with the Rams scoring 16 to just 10 from the Bonnies. 

Hyland finished with a team high 22 points, while Williams Jr added 11 points for the Rams.  

With the loss, SBU fell out of first place and is now half-a-game back from the Rams, who now lead the A-10. Due to the disparity in games played among the top teams, St. Bonaventure sits in fourth place behind Davidson and UMass.  

“We gotta fix some stuff, but we were right there,” Schmidt said. “I was proud of the effort.”