A-10 TOURNAMENT: favorites, sleepers and players to watch

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Peter Byrne

RICHMOND, VA — Although it hasn’t always been easy, the college basketball regular season has concluded and there will be an Atlantic 10 tournament for the first time since 2019. There will be notable changes between this year’s tournament and the one from just two years before.

Instead of the entire tournament being held in Brooklyn, New York, the majority of the 2021 A-10 tournament will be held in Richmond, Virginia. VCU and Richmond will both play host until the tournament championship, which will be played in Dayton, Ohio. 

Furthermore, the tournament championship will be played eight days after the semifinals conclude. The tournament will go from March 3-6, with the title game on March 14. Despite some changes, the format is the same, and each team will be fighting for an automatic bid and a ticket to the NCAA tournament.  

THE FAVORITE(S): 

The favorites heading into the tournament will be the top two teams in St. Bonaventure and VCU.

The teams finished a half game apart in the standings and split their regular-season meetings, each team winning on their home floor. Both the Bonnies and Rams lost their final regular season matchups, so expect both teams to come out for revenge in Richmond. It would come to nobody’s surprise if these teams were playing for Atlantic 10 championship in Dayton. 

THE SLEEPER: 

Saint Louis was a preseason favorite heading into the season and has failed to exceed expectations. However, a lengthy COVID pause that had them out for over a month is worth noting. Now seeded fourth, the Bilikens are coming off two straight victories and look to be hitting their stride at just the right time.

Saint Louis also seems to have SBU’s number recently, as they’ve won three straight against Schmidt and co. Although they have not been consistent enough throughout the season to be labeled a favorite, they seem to peaking at the right time.

3 PLAYERS TO WATCH: 

Kyle Lofton (SBU): Lofton averaged 14.5 points and 5.5 per game assists in the regular season, leading the Bonnies to their first outright regular season title in school history. Although he is only shooting 23% from behind the arc, he is shooting 44% from three in his last six games. As the Bonnies point guard and leader, expect him to have the ball in his hands in crunch time throughout the tournament.

NAH’SHON “BONES” HYLAND (VCU): Sophomore guard Nah’shon “Bones” Hyland is arguably the conference’s most improved player this season, upping his points per game from 9.0 to 19.2 in just one season. This improvement is the main reason why VCU has exceeded its preseason expectations and should be heading to the NCAA Tournament. The 6’3 guard will look to prove why he should be the conference’s player of the year in Richmond 

Jordan Goodwin: Bilikens senior Jordan Goodwin is a do-it-all type player for his team. He averages 14.5 points a game, leads the team in rebounding as a guard with 10.3 boards per game, and dishes out nearly 4 assists a game. He also leads the team in steals. In what should be his final Atlantic 10 tournament appearance, Goodwin will look to lead his Bilikens to a second straight tournament title. 

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.” 

PREVIEW: Bona seeks season sweep of VCU in battle for first place

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Peter Byrne

RICHMOND, VA — “We need to play better than we did in game one if we want to win again.”

Following an 86-73 victory over La Salle on Tuesday, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team will travel to Richmond, Virginia for a matchup against the VCU Rams.

Friday night will be the second matchup between the Bonnies and Rams this season. They met at the Reilly Center just under a month ago, with the Bonnies earning a 70-54 victory.

However, the 16-point victory did not come as easily as the final score might show. After falling behind 40-25 in the first half, the Bonnies responded with an incredible second half. With tenacious defense and hot shooting, the Bonnies outscored the VCU 45-14 in the second half and ran away with the hard-earned victory.

Head coach Mark Schmidt acknowledged the slow start from their last encounter.

“We cannot get off to a bad start again,” Schmidt said. “They have momentum. They have won their last four games.”

Another bad start could the Bonnies in a serious hole, especially against a hungry VCU team which has not lost since they played SBU. 

The last time the Bonnies played at the Siegel Center, they were embarrassed. They trailed at the half by 28 points and lost by the same margin.

The good news for this year? Only 250 specters will be allowed in the arena. Like the Reilly Center, VCU’s home atmosphere is amongst the top in the conference, and even the country.

“Home court still matters but not nearly as much,” Schmidt said. “It is a disadvantage to not have fans, just like it is at the Reilly Center.”

The lack of a raucous crowd should help the Bonnies try to break VCU’s notorious full-court pressure.

“It’s hard to simulate their pressure in practice,” Schmidt said. “One of the keys to the game will not be giving up live-ball turnovers that lead to points.”

The Bonnies committed 15 turnovers in their win over the Rams, but only four of those came in the second half. Protecting the ball will be paramount on Friday night.

Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland, VCU’s leading scorer, scoring 16 points against the Bonnies the first time around. Bona countered with three double-digit scorers, as Dominick Welch led the way with 19 points.

Friday’s game may be St. Bonaventure’s biggest of the season thus far. First place in the Atlantic 10 standings is at stake, as the Bonnies (10-2, 8-2 A-10) lead the Rams (14-4, 7-2 A-10) by half a game in the conference.

As for the NCAA Tournament implications, the Bonnies have a tremendous chance to earn another signature road win and sweep the #2 team in the conference. The NCAA’s NET rankings have VCU at #36 and SBU at #38, so a win would give the Bonnies a Quadrant one victory and would move them back into the low 30s.

Many people have been asking for St. Bonaventure to prove it belongs. The Bonnies have a shot to do that in front of a national television audience on ESPN2 Friday night.

Superb second half leads Bona to comeback victory over VCU

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — VCU went into halftime with a 15-point lead. After that, the Rams never looked the same.

After being out-played by the Rams on both ends of the floor in the first half, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team used two big runs in the second half to beat VCU, 70-54, at the Reilly Center on Wednesday night.

Bona opened the second stanza on a 20-3 run that was capped with three-consecutive dunks, two of which were accompanied by a defensive foul. Jalen Adaway drove to the rim and dunked over a VCU defender while drawing a foul before Osun Osunniyi did the same. Osunniyi then got another dunk off of a lob pass, which seemingly gave Bona the entirety of the game’s momentum.

After the Rams battled back midway through the half, SBU ended the game on a 19-3 run that spanned over 11 minutes of game time.

“The game was, ‘Who’s going to own the paint?’ In the first half, they owned the paint,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said. “They kept the ball downhill, they were killing us on the back board, we didn’t do a good job against their press… As a coach, you just challenge the guys, and if you have character guys, guys that are competitors, they’re going to respond.”

Jaren Holmes scored 18 points and pulled down nine rebounds for Bona, which improved its play on the glass late in the game after being out-rebounded 28-15 by the Rams in the first half. Bona out-rebounded the Rams 22-14 in the second half, however, and only allowed four offensive rebounds in the second frame after giving up 13 of them in the first.

“The most important minutes (of the second half) were the first five minutes,” Schmidt said. “The first 10 possessions. We couldn’t have played better offensively or defensively in the second half. To hold that team to 14 points and the percentage that they shot, it’s a credit to our guys.”

The Bonnies held the Rams to 14 points on 19% shooting from the field in the second half, while shooting nearly 56% from the field and 50% from three-point range themselves. Bona ended up shooting 42% from the field in the game, while VCU shot just 32%.

“Since I’ve been here as a coach, in my opinion, that’s the best half we’ve played both offensively and defensively,” Schmidt said. “We took care of the ball and ran some stuff that was effective, but in essence it came down to, we started going downhill and we stopped them from going downhill.”

Dominick Welch, who had been held to zero points in SBU’s last game (a win over Duquesne), scored a game-high 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting from the field, including 5-for-6 from three-point range. Kyle Lofton scored 12 points for the Bonnies, while Jalen Adaway scored nine points and Osun Osunniyi scored nine points to go with nine rebounds.

“I felt that we weren’t playing aggressively enough in the first half, but we always emphasize defense in practice, and I think that defense and rebounding played a big role in letting our offense (come back),” Welch said. “We really wanted to stick to getting stops and cutting that lead down before the first media (timeout).”

Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland, who scored a team-high 16 points for the Rams, was held to 1-of-7 shooting for three points in the second half. Vince Williams Jr. scored 11 points for the Rams, while Levi Stockard III and Hason Ward each added eight points.

This was just VCU’s second lost in Atlantic 10 play, as the Rams fell to 3-2 in the league and 10-4 overall.

“We have competitive guys, and I think they were a little embarrassed by how they played in the first half,” Schmidt said. “And they responded. The first tv timeout was critical for us to get some momentum, and we did that.”

This marked Bona’s fifth-straight A-10 win, as the Bonnies improved to 5-1 in the league and 7-1 overall. SBU’s schedule continues to shuffle, as an upcoming Saturday-night road trip to Saint Louis was canceled and replaced by a trip to La Roche University, where the Bonnies will play Duquesne for the second time in eight days.

SBU won its first matchup over the Dukes, 62-48, last Friday at the RC. Bona’s win over VCU gives it sole possession of first place in the A-10, breaking a tie with UMass, which also went into Wednesday night at 4-1 in conference play.

“This is a very good team that we played tonight, and it just shows the will that we have as a team and the chemistry that we’re building together,” Welch said. “It feels like these wins are really different. A step in the right direction.”