With double the amount of games as the day before, it's no surprise that Day 2 of the 2022 Atlantic 10 Championship would have double the room for some textbook March Madness. Here's a recap of everything you may have missed on Thursday.
Game 3: Fordham 55, George Mason 49
Going into this game, everyone pretty much knew it was going to be a war. If their 50-47 game in February didn't already tell you everything you needed to know, then two first-year head coaches looking for their first career postseason wins should do the trick.
In similar fashion to their first meeting, Fordham and George Mason got off to a physical, low-scoring start, with the first bucket of the game scored by Josh Oduro down low. Oduro and Chuba Ohams, Fordham's premier big this season, and one of the best rebounders in the country, would really set the tone for this game, much to the pleasure of fans, and to the chagrin of those who bet the over. Despite the ball really running through these guys in the first, both Ohams and Oduro had each other's number, scoring just four points apiece in the first half. Shooters on both teams were able to contribute, as Patrick Kelly and D'Shawn Schwartz traded buckets, but no one was able to grab much of an advantage early on, with Mason entering the break on a slim 3-point margin.
As the second half got underway, George Mason got out to a big lead, while Fordham missed their first nine consecutive shots of the period. As Mason built a lead as large as 11 points, Fordham just could not find their rhythm. A Chuba Ohams eurostep that was blocked hard by Josh Oduro really exemplified how hard Mason had clamped down defensively. However, Fordham would not back down, and slowly but surely, the Rams regained their composure. With guys like Pat Kelly and Zach Riley forcing turnovers, drawing whistles, and hitting a few clutch shots, Fordham quickly tied the game at 37 apiece. Chuba Ohams hit a hook shot to get the Rams up 39-37, and from there completely took over. Ohams would finish the day with 20 points and 16 rebounds, while defensively the Rams allowed 0 Mason points in the final 5 minutes of the game. With a 55-49 win, Fordham would punch their ticket to the A-10 quarterfinals for the first time since 2007.
In his post game presser, Fordham Coach Kyle Neptune was proud of his team's defense, saying that it has been the driving force behind his team's identity all season.
"That's all we talk about," Neptune said. "If we go into a game and we defend and we rebound at a high level, and we just don't make shots that day, well, we'll live with that."
Mason Head Coach Kim English, while clearly frustrated with how his team finished both in this game and in the regular season, talked about what his team needed to do to take that next step.
"Ups and downs. When you talk about these possession games, you know, I think it's nine or ten, whatever, we lost games by one possession or two possessions...We have to be better to widen that margin of error, so that we can win in spite of. We are going to win in spite of. That's what the best teams do. And we will."
Game 4: Saint Louis 71, La Salle 51
After Jack Clark opened the tournament with a 20-point performance on Wednesday, La Salle was looking to continue their high volume shooting on Day 2 in order to compete with the 5-seed Saint Louis Billikens. However, while La Salle definitely got plenty of shots off in the first half, they really weren't hitting. Working their way up to an 11-11 tie after the under-12 media timeout, La Salle just didn't have the gas in the tank to respond to Saint Louis. The Explorers would finish the half shooting 5-29 from the field. Jack Clark scored just four points in the first, while Clifton Moore would go 0-7.
As for Saint Louis, the Billikens came out of the same break with a strong inclination to push the ball in transition. The Billikens outscored La Salle 5-0 in fast break points in the first half. Francis Okoro was a major facilitator in the first half, going 5-7 from the field for 11 points. While 3-point shooting was sparse all around in the first, Gibson Jimerson would connect early on, as the incredibly reliable freshman guard entered the break with 9 points. 13-28 from the field in the first, Saint Louis would lead 36-16 at halftime.
Coming out in the second half, the Billikens easily could have hit cruise control, defended hard, and walk into the next round. However, they immediately opened the half on a tear, outscoring La Salle 18-9 in the opening minutes to get their lead up to as much as 33. The rest of the second half saw Saint Louis rotating their entire bench out, while La Salle continued to push. They had cut the lead down to as much as 18, but with just two minutes left, Saint Louis had clinched their fifth consecutive appearance in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals.
"Obviously we had a big lead at halftime," said Gibson Jimerson, explaining SLU's second half defensive mindset. "And holding them to 16 points, we wanted to build off of that. I mean, you always want to continue to do that going into halftime, because as we have seen as a team this year, a lot of our games have been the tale of two halves. We will play great one half and then we'll kind of get away from it."
Saint Louis will play St. Bonaventure in the quarterfinals.
As for La Salle, Coach Ashley Howard emphasized that moving forward, the priority will be developing Moore and Clark.
"I think Clifton Moore is one of the best big guys in our conference," Howard said. "I think he still has a lot of room for improvement. It says a lot about him and how good he can be and where his talent is. So looking forward to getting him better this off-season and bringing him back next year as a bigger, stronger, more polished player."
Game 5: UMass 99, George Washington 88
9 days before UMass played their first game of the 2022 tournament, the school had announced that Matt McCall would leave the program after five seasons as head coach. Since that announcement, UMass has found themselves in a three game winning streak, including a win over GW on Day 2 of the tournament. If that doesn't encapsulate how strange college basketball in March can be, then I don't know what can.
In their most recent win, the Minutemen got off to a hot start from the field, going 3-4 from three point range by the first media time out. The scoring effort early on was spread pretty evenly as UMass moved the ball very well, with TJ Weeks, Noah Fernandes, and Trent Buttrick all making major contributions. For GW, Joe Bamisile and James Bishop, two of the conference's top emerging scorers, helped get the Colonials on a 9-0 run midway through the first, but despite being able to go shot for shot with UMass, the Minutemen were much more effective from three, allowing themselves to slowly break into a 10 point lead. UMass would finish the first half 9-16 from three, leading GW 56-36.
In the second half, both teams continued to hit shot after shot, as the game quickly became the highest scoring of the tournament so far. While GW relied mainly on their offense, UMass was able to back up their solid shooting with some pressing defense. Forcing 18 total turnovers against the Colonials, UMass was able to score 31 points. Noah Fernandes, who led all scorers with 29 points, also recorded a whopping 7 steals to help give UMass the 11-point victory.
"If that's not one of the best guards in the Atlantic 10, I don't know what it looks like," McCall said of Fernandes' performance. "I know he's ours, but he's just a warrior, and he leaves it all out there, and he plays the game with such a passion."
After the game, McCall and his players were not too uncomfortable to talk about his eventual departure, focusing instead on the time they have remaining together.
"And day could be our last day," said TJ Weeks, who put up 15 points. "So that's how we go about it each and every day, and we come out there and we just give our 110% each day."
Entering the season ranked 13th in the preseason poll, George Washington impressed fans and analysts as they challenged for the 7th seed in the conference. Moving forward, Jamion Christian talked about what his team can improve upon for next year.
"To win it, you got to have three top-18 players in the league," Christian said. "You got to have a guy like Brayon Freeman, who is a talented player, and James Bishop and Joe Bamisile. I think we've been able to up our talent level to the right level, and I think we need to continue to add depth in the post and depth in some shooting."
Game 6: Richmond 64, URI 59
Because this is the A-10, and shenanigans are more prone to happen in this conference than seemingly anywhere else, it was no surprise that the Thursday night cap game would end in pretty insane fashion.
Heading into this one, the pressure was heavily tipped towards Richmond, as their experienced core looked to dive right into a successful final A-10 run. Unfortunately for the Spiders, Rhody got out quick offensively, with Malik Martin scoring 10 points in the first 8 minutes of the game. Overall, Richmond looked sluggish in the first half, shooting just 9-24 from the field, and getting dominated on the glass. A team who can rebound well on the defensive end is so dangerous, as it not only gives your team another opportunity to score, but draws out possessions to thin out your opponent's time to crawl back. Rhody outrebounded Richmond 7-1 on the offensive end in the first half. With 14 points from Malik Martin, the Rams were sitting on a comfortable 35-21 lead.
However, in the second half, the roles seemed to make an almost complete reversal, as the Spiders began to rebound, get out in transition, and force turnovers. As both teams struggled to score coming out of the break, Richmond really began to hunker down. What really allowed the Spiders to pull through and close the gap was how each of Richmond's stars relied on their own specific skillsets. Jacob Gilyard, the all-time D-1 steals leader, recorded 4 in the second half, making major contributions to Richmond's 20 points off of turnovers in the period. Tyler Burton, the A-10's biggest NBA prospect right now, rattled off 12 points. Grant Golden, always a major defensive presence, led all Spiders scorers with 19 points by the end of the game.
According to Jacob Gilyard, the looming end to his own and several of his teammates college careers was a major driving force in spurring this comeback.
"At the end of the day, this is why us seniors came back," Gilyard said. "To have one last run at it, and we didn't want to go out like that."
Richmond will play VCU in the quarterfinals. As Rhody heads home for the year, Coach David Cox talked about his own future with the program, and where his team can grow. With rumors of his departure, Coach Cox was quick to emphasize his commitment to Rhode Island.
"I'm here to be here," Cox said. "I'm proud of these guys. I think that we have to regroup and refocus our efforts so we're back in the upper echelons next year."
Today's A-10 Tourney Slate
12:00 Davidson vs. Fordham
2:30 St. Bonaventure vs. SLU
6:00 UMass vs. Dayton
8:30 VCU vs. Richmond