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. “