With the A-10's at-large chances looking slimmer and slimmer this weekend, and a little over 24 hours before the 2022 Tournament Selection Show, the situation for remaining A-10 teams in this year's semifinals were as dire as ever. Of course, in a conference where anything can happen, and everything has happened, the Saturday games of the 2022 Atlantic 10 Championship did not disappoint.
Here's everything you missed from the Atlantic 10 Men's Basketball semifinals.
Game 11: Davidson 84, Saint Louis 64
After taking down the Bonnies for the first time this season on Friday, Saint Louis entered a semi-final matchup against Davidson, a team who had also swept them in the regular season. Could lightning strike twice for the Billikens?
Early on, chances for another upset looked slim, as Davidson got off to a hot 10-4 start in the first five minutes of the game. After beating Fordham by dominating the paint, the Wildcats returned to form against SLU, as Foster Loyer and Michael Jones knocked down deep shots to set the tone for their team's first half offensive mindset. While not really being able to respond from deep, SLU would keep it close early in the first, as Martin Linssen drove to the hoop on several possessions, and Fred Thatch Jr. scored off of a Davidson turnover.
However, while consistent from the field at first, SLU just was not producing beyond the arc. As the first half wound down, Davidson continued to heat up from deep, rattling off 6 three pointers in the last 8 minutes of the first half. Michael Jones was a perfect 4-4 from the field in the first half for 11 points. Outside of Thatch and Linssen, most of SLU's go to weapons were all shut down in the first half. Gibson Jimerson was just 1-5 from the field, Francis Okoro 0-1, and Jordan Nesbitt unable to get a shot off at all.
Coming into the second half down 44-24, it was clear what the Billikens needed to do on both sides of the ball to have any semblance of a comeback. Offensively, they hit the mark, as guys like Yuri Collins and Terrence Hargrove got some good open looks. Collins would score 11 in the second half off of 3-5 shooting, while Hargrove would grab 9. However, for every SLU shot, Davidson was ready with a response.
While SLU outscored Davidson 45-40 in the second half, it wasn't nearly enough to close such a big gap. The danger a team like Davidson presents is not only how they shoot the ball at a high level, but also how many guys on this roster can do so. Five Wildcats finished with at least one made three, and Davidson scored 29 total field goals, almost doubling SLU's 15. Foster Loyer would lead all scorers with 21 points.
According to SLU's Terrence Hargrove, while Davidson's ability to shoot the three was something they definitely prepared for, slowing down their production was just too tough a task.
"They live on the three-point line," Hargrove said about Davidson. "We could have done a better job by guarding them with the three."
Despite the loss, at 23 wins, Saint Louis was eager to look towards the immediate future at a very possible bid in the 2022 NIT.
As for Davidson, the Wildcats now had a chance finish their historic Atlantic 10 run by playing for the Conference Tournament championship, their first appearance since their win in 2018. A program that has made the conference semifinals every year since their first in the A-10 in 2015, Coach McKillop explained how tough it is to get far in this conference on a year-to-year basis.
"The A-10 is an incredibly difficult conference," McKillop said. "I think getting back to the championship game is a mountain that is very difficult to climb. Seven straight times we've made the semifinals. I don't know that anyone can match that in our seven years in the conference."
Game 12: Richmond 68, Dayton 64
Considering the experience that this Richmond roster has had in the Atlantic 10 compared to that of Dayton, it felt strange to call the Spiders the underdogs in this matchup. However, by nature of seeding, and by looking at how the two teams matched up in the first half, that's exactly what they were.
Right from tip, Dayton got off to a fiery start, up 9-2 via a well-spread effort of good looks. Richmond on the other struggled to find their footing early on. Jacob Gilyard, who had dropped 32 points the day before, was 0-5 from the field in the first half. As the Spiders tried to move the ball instead through Grant Golden, freshman forward DaRon Holmes was there to shut him down. Holmes put on a defensive clinic against Golden in the first half, stripping the ball from him on several possessions, and leaving the veteran forward relatively rattled late in the half. Despite the tough defense on him, Golden still finished the half with 9 points as Richmond's last consistent option. As Dayton got ready to enter the half on a high note up 33-25, freshman phenom Malachi Smith twisted his ankle on the final play before the break.
As Dayton began warmups in the second half, Smith would not join them, as he was likely being checked out in the locker room. Once he did return to the bench, he would not return for the rest of the game, sitting with his left leg propped up on a chair. A player described by Flyers Coach Anthony Grant as "the head of the snake," Smith's injury clearly took a major toll on the young Flyers morale. In March, a mental blow like that can be crucial for a team, and in the second half against Richmond, it was clear that the Flyers were rattled.
As for their opponents, the Spiders seemed to be riding on a huge new wave of adrenaline, as they slowly began to chip away at Dayton's lead. After going down by as much as 15 early in the second, the Spiders broke into a 9-0 heading into the under-8 media timeout, bringing the game within 4 points. Everything that had troubled the Spiders in the first half seemed to wash away, as Jacob Gilyard found good looks from deep, Tyler Burton crashed the glass, and Grant Golden muscled his way down low.
As the Spiders clawed their way back, their momentum was further aided by the bunched up Richmond crowd in Section 101. Grant Golden would wave his arms up and down in their direction after each stoppage in play, rallying both his team and the fans while Richmond completed the comeback. Golden would hit the layup to tie the game a 57, completing an 18-5 run from the under 12 to the 3:52 mark of the second half. Matt Grace, who was relatively quiet on the stat sheet for the whole game, hit a three to put Richmond up 62-59 that basically served as the killing blow. As the game came down to free throws, Richmond secured the 64-60 win, moving on to the Atlantic 10 Championship Game for the first time since their win over Dayton in the 2011 matchup.
According to Coach Anthony Grant, Smith's injury in the first half was a huge blow to his team, both mentally and on the stat sheet.
"I think it affected us a lot," Grant said. "He's a big piece of the team. He has big character, so I think he influenced us a lot in the way we play and even outside the court."
For Coach Chris Mooney and the Spiders, after being down so much early in the second, to be able to come back and win this game is a testament to the experience of this team, and the trust they have in each other.
"They're together. They care about one another," Mooney said. "So with those qualities, they're an easy group to trust. Jacob [Gilyard] has the best basketball mind of anyone in the program, and Grant's not too far behind. Nick [Sherod] is not too far behind. So those guy, they know, they're on the floor."
Richmond will play Davidson tomorrow to try and win their first Atlantic 10 Championship since 2011.