As the last four teams entered the Atlantic 10 Tournament on Friday, the stakes grew as high as ever. Which top seed would prove themselves on the most crucial stage so far this season? Could any teams from yesterday push through to the semifinals?
Here's a recap of everything you may have missed from Day 3.
Game 7: Davidson 74, Fordham 56
Facing off against the top-seed Wildcats for the third time this season, the Fordham Rams were hit with a huge blow pregame, as the team decided that Darius Quisenberry would not play. Fordham's leading scorer, who dropped 36 on the Wildcats back in January, had been playing through a knee injury for the better part of two weeks, including 22 minutes the day before against George Mason. Without Quisenberry, Chuba Ohams would once again look to be the main offensive facilitator as he matched up with Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Luka Brajkovic.
As the game began, Fordham stayed competitive against the Wildcats, as they tried to bring the game's identity into their style of physical play. Ohams and Brajkovic were incredibly aggressive with each other, as both players struggled to score on each other. Fordham as a whole had a lot of trouble breaking through Davidson's defense, especially when it came to keeping up with the Wildcats three point shooting.
As the Rams ran through their playbook, an unlikely hero emerged in Rostyslav Novitskyi. A backup forward who has earned a lot more minutes over the past few weeks, Novtiskyi looked more comfortable shooting the ball than ever, going 5-8 from the field, and hitting a career high 13 points before halftime. Despite Novitskyi's solid performance, Fordham as a whole went 9-32 from the field, and 0-12 from three.
Entering halftime on a 7-0 run, Davidson carried their strong momentum into the second half. Defensively, the Wildcats clamped down on Chuba Ohams, double-teaming him every time he got the ball and not letting Fordham get any clean looks from three. Offensively, Davidson played calm but efficient, muscling their way into the paint to shoot 12-24 from the field in the second half. Three Davidson scorers would finish in double digits. Mennenga would lead Davidson with 15 points, while Novitskyi lead all scorers with 18 points.
According to Davidson Coach Bob McKillop, Fordham presented a unique challenge in this quarterfinal matchup, and was impressed with how his team adjusted to handle Fordham's style of play. Even with 40 years of experience coaching in College Basketball, McKillop emphasized that conference postseasons don't get easier with experience.
"Tournament play is arguably the most exciting time for fans," McKillop explained. "It is one of the most anxiety-filled experiences for coaches. You think about the consequences. You think about the season, and how it boils down to maybe one possession, one shot, one free-throw. So it's never any easier."
Moving forward, Kyle Neptune expressed how proud he was of his team, who went 16-16 overall in their best finish since 2016. While thinking about the future of this program was not on Neptune's mind right after finishing this season, Neptune explained his excitement for the foundation Fordham can build on.
“I think our guys set a standard,” Neptune said. “I hope that whoever we bring in can fall in line with the standard that these guys have helped set this year.”
Game 8: Saint Louis 57, St. Bonaventure 56
Heading into this game, the Bonnies had swept the regular season series against Saint Louis, and had not lost to the Billikens since February 6th, 2021. In a quarterfinal matchup against the reigning A-10 Champions, the Billikens would need a serious answer to Bona's veteran starting lineup.
As the game opened, Saint Louis found not just one, but two answers to secure the win in Francis Okoro and Gibson Jimerson. Okoro was the leader in the first half, scoring 14 points off of 5-5 shooting in the first 20 minutes. Despite Okoro's dominance, neither SLU nor Bona were able to get the advantage over one another, as the score inched up to the low 20-point mark for each team, one bucket at a time. Okoro would lay it in, followed by a Coulibaly jumper, a Jimerson three, and two consecutive fast break shots from Jalen Adaway.
For the Bonnies, scoring was pretty well spread in the first, with no player scoring more than 7. A major crux for the Bonnies all year, bench production was still at a low, with Abdoul Coulibaly scoring the only 2 bench points of the half. Heading into the break, SLU held a slim 26-22 advantage.
The second half was still the same slugfest from before, with Okoro passing the hero baton to Gibson Jimerson and Yuri Collins, who combined for a total of 23 points in the second. As for the Bonnies, while their continued bench problems continued to ail them at this crucial point in the season, senior stars such as Osun Osunniyi struggled to find their rhythm. Osunniyi would not shoot the ball until the final two minutes of the game.
While the two shots he made included an and-1 to put Bona up 54-52 late, Jimerson would one again come in clutch, hitting a three pointer and a jump shot to give SLU their last five points of the game. With four seconds remaining, Kyle Lofton drove into the lane and drew contact to possibly put the Bonnies up by one, but missed both free throws to allow SLU to come away with the win.
While the ending of the game was definitely the focal point for a lot of fans and analysts, Billikens coach Travis Ford highlighted his team's scrappy, physical defense that lasted throughout the game.
"That's a 40-minute game. Our defense was the difference," Ford said. "We stayed up a long time studying our two games [against Bona] and we made some adjustments."
SLU will face Davidson in the first semifinal game.
As for the Bonnies, while a disappointing end to the season, Coach Mark Schmidt highlighted the strides this team has made, as this core held firm as one of the best teams in the conference for several seasons.
"I'm proud of these guys and what they represent to their families, to our program," Schmidt said. "They have had Osun for four years, Jalen for three years. It's been a pleasure. Life is not fair all the time. Sometimes you get a curve ball thrown at you, but these guys will bounce back."
Game 9: Dayton 75, UMass 72
Heading into this game, Matt McCall's UMass Minutemen were on a three game win streak post-departure announcement, but they surely wouldn't be able to carry this momentum past the 2-seeded Dayton, right? RIGHT?!
While the first half was close all the way through, UMass looked as good as they had all season early on against the Flyers. The Minutemen challenged the Flyers early by getting points in transition, and forcing turnovers. Noah Fernandes, who recorded 7 steals the night before, grabbed 2 in the first half, while also notching 10 points by the under 8 timeout. UMass would grab 6 points off of turnovers, and 10 in transition as they frustrated Dayton defensively.
Despite a shaky start for the Flyers, there were plenty of bright spots in the first, especially from Daron Holmes. After stuffing UMass' Elvis Kobe on the defensive end, Holmes was able to get the ball on the fast break and complete a monstrous jam, putting Dayton up 25-20 late in the first. UMass would enter the break up 36-34, and a serious chance at making it to the semifinals.
As the second half opened, both teams continued to go at each other with strong finishing inside. Dayton's big men excelled in the paint in the second half, outscoring UMass 24-16 down low. While UMass was able to stay alive via Noah Fernandes 15 second half points, Trent Buttrick fouled out of the game with 1:26 left to go in a 3-point game. Without Buttrick, the Minutemen were severely outsized on the final few possessions, and Dayton cruised to the three point victory. DaRon Holmes would finish with 28 points for the Flyers.
"The thing for us is we have a team that has a lot of guys," Dayton Coach Anthony Grant said, describing his deep roster. "We say this just about every other game, that a different guy is capable for us every single night to lead us in scoring. Tonight, Deuce [Holmes] was able to do that at a high level."
With the loss, the Matt McCall era at UMass officially ended. Posting a 60-81 overall record, 30-52 in conference play, McCall expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to coach UMass, and where his future lies.
"Right now, I'm going to go home," McCall said. "I'm going to hug my wife. I'm going to hug my kids. I'm tired, but I'm excited for what's next, and I'm indebted to the University of Massachusetts for the opportunity that they provided a former student manager that worked his way up to an Atlantic 10 coach. This isn't it for me. I'll be back."
Game 10: Richmond 75, VCU 64
With the conference championship in the DMV this year, what better way to end the quarterfinal round than with a matchup between two cross-town Virginia rivals? As Richmond and VCU warmed up for the final game of Day 3, fans from both schools packed the arena to set up an absolutely electric environment. Right from tip, every foul, bucket, block, or turnover received a litany of cheers and jeers.
As the game got underway, VCU had a slight edge defensively over Richmond, with 3 blocks in the first eight minutes. While the Spiders were able to get good looks from three early, especially from Jacob Gilyard, the Rams locked down the inside, while in transition, Keyshawn Curry laid down a huge dunk, and Marcus Tsohonis pulled up from deep to put the Rams up 11-9. When looking at how both teams played in the first half, VCU should have lead by a wide margin. The Rams limited almost every Richmond player to five points or less, but seemed to have no answer for Jacob Gilyard. 7-8 from the field in the first half, and 5-6 from three, Gilyard entered the break with 22 points, as his team led VCU 37-29.
Despite plenty of VCU runs in the second half, the Rams were never able to regain the lead, or even force a tie. Gilyard was still incredibly effective from the field, dropping another 10 points in the second half to finish with 32, while teammates such as Tyler Burton began to catch up in the scoring department. VCU, hitting panic mode as the clock wound down, failed to connect on several potentially big three point shots, and 10 second half turnovers meant that the Rams squandered several opportunities to climb back. In what was possibly the biggest upset of the weekend, Richmond closed out the 75-64 win, punching their ticket to the semifinals, and pretty much squandering any at-large chances for VCU.
When asked about his performance, Gilyard talked about how important it was to perform well in such a hostile rivalry game.
"I'm not good at math, but I'll probably like 95% was just about pride," Gilyard said. "Hopefully they don't get a chance to go to the NCAA tournament before us. That's what this one was about."
With at-large hopes still not extinguished, but on their last breath, Coach Rhoades explained that his team will just have to be patient over the weekend, and wait to see what the selection committee makes of his team.
Today's slate: The Semifinals
1:00- 1 Davidson vs 5 SLU
3:30- 2 Dayton vs 6 Richmond