Wednesday was not a day full of surprises, but it was a day full of A-10 postseason basketball, so who can really complain? Yesterday afternoon, the 2022 Atlantic 10 Men's Basketball Championship tipped off, as the 11th-14th seeds faced off in the first two games, lovingly dubbed by fans as the "pillow fight." Let's check out the biggest moments from both of these games, and what they mean for today's slate.
Game 1: La Salle 63, St. Joe's 56
The 2022 Tourney kicked off with a battle between the A-10's two Philly schools, as La Salle and St. Joe's met for the second time this season. Seemingly fueled by the postseason excitement in DC, both teams got off to a pretty hot shooting start, as the score hit 7-7 in the first three minutes of the game. Leading the scoring effort for La Salle in the first half was Clifton Moore and Jack Clark, who scored 13 and 12 respectively in the first.
For St. Joe's, most looked to Jordan Hall to carry the brunt of the Hawks scoring. However, as La Salle tightened their defense around the perimeter, forced turnovers, and got out ahead in transition, Hall and SJU's other guards began to struggle. According to Explorers Coach Ashley Howard, this was a huge part of the Explorers' game plan heading into the tournament.
"I anticipated that St. Joe's would do a really good job on the defensive end," Howard said. "We wanted to make a point to get guys out in transition. Our guys had to give themselves a chance to get some easy baskets. That was out of respect for Billy and the job that's he's done with team on the defensive end."
In the first half, St. Joe's would commit 9 turnovers in the first half, off of which La Salle scored 11 points. Towards the end of the first half, and throughout the second, the Hawks moved their offensive production inside, which allowed an unexpected hero to emerge. Charles Coleman, a backup forward who hadn't scored in double figures in two years, absolutely cooked for the Hawks. Coleman would finish the game with a career high 18 points, while going 4-5 from three point range. Despite the shakeup, La Salle was able to halt a late Hawks rally and secure the opening round victory. La Salle's Jack Clark would lead all scorers with 20 points.
Looking forward, Coach Howard said that his team is hungry to keep moving in the tournament, as they now prepare to play La Salle.
"We have an opportunity to play against a really good team, and we're going to be ready."
For Coach Billy Lange of St. Joe's, ending the season on a loss, as well as 11-19 overall, is tough. However, Lange was quick to highlight how hard his team competed in 2022.
"We want to compete for the story of St. Joe's basketball," Lange said. "We want to compete every game. I'm going to take from this [season] the endurance and the competitiveness of the group. That's going to propel us forward, and I'm confident in that."
Game 2: URI 79, Duquesne 77
If yesterday was the first time you got a chance to watch Duquesne all season, I'd bet you were surprised to find out that they were 1-14 in conference play before the tournament. Another game in which both teams traded a lot of solid shots early, the Dukes were able to light up Rhody via the hot hands of Primo Spears, who dropped 17 in the first half off of 7-12 shooting. As a whole, Duquesne played fast and aggressive, forcing 11 Rhody turnovers in the first 20 minutes. While the Rams spread the offense pretty well in the first half, these turnovers and lax defense saw them head into the break down 41-37.
In the second half, Rhody turned their defense up to 11, and it showed. At several points in the second, Duquesne was caught in several scoreless droughts that lasted up to 2-3 minutes. Rhody's 19-6 run to open the second half was an early nail in the coffin for the Dukes. Even as the last minute of the game saw the Dukes get within one-point of Rhody, a Jeremy Sheppard layup iced the game for the Rams, sending them into a Thursday matchup against Richmond. Primo Spears would finish the game leading all scorers with 30 points.
With 22 bench points, and 5 guys scoring in double figures, Coach David Cox was proud of how well his team spread the offense, and was especially impressed by how the Mitchell brothers contributed off the bench.
"The bench was big tonight," Cox said. "Makhel and Makhi each had 10 points, Bas provided a spark off the bench, and I thought Jalen's defense was really, really solid. Outside of the points, which was good, I thought those guys came in and contributed the right way."
As for their opponents, while Duquesne's performance against Rhody was one of their best of the season, Coach Keith Dambrot expressed clear disappointment with how this season ended. In a season filled with injury and uncertainty, Coach Dambrot talked about how his team is looking towards the future.
"A lot of things went wrong, but I stressed with them all over the last month that we're going to find out who has toughness, who has character, and who has quit," Dambrot said. "It would have been really easy to quit. We could've just showed up, said woe is me, and played poorly, but we tried. To really be great sometimes, you really have to learn how to get hit in the mouth."
Rhody will take on Richmond today in the second round.
Today's A-10 Tourney Slate
Noon: Fordham vs George Mason
2:30: La Salle vs Saint Louis
6:00: George Washington vs UMass
8:30 URI vs Richmond