Welcome to the weekend! There was plenty of action today in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, so let's get right into today's recaps, along with my predictions for tomorrow.
Game 1: St. Bonaventure 75 Duquesne 59
While the Bonnies lead for pretty much the entire game, their lead never dipping below 8 points in the second half, there were definitely some exciting moments from both teams today.
Early on in the second half, Duquesne made quick work of a 22-point Bonnies lead with a 16-2 run, 6 of those points coming from Michael Hughes, who finished the day with 15 to go along with 8 boards and 3 blocks. Despite this solid offensive effort, the Bonnies could not be stopped offensively.
Despite playing forward, Osun Osunniyi took the role of floor general today. Knowing that Duquesne's defense would primarily be focused on him today, Osunniyi used his presence in the paint to provide plenty of opportunities for his teammates to get shots off from anywhere on the court.
"Its easier for my teammates to make shots when the ball is coming from the inside out, so you want to go inside early," Osunniyi said. "If you go right inside immediately, you’ll pick up a double team, and I can get it to my guys outside."
Even with his unselfish play, Osunniyi was able to grab 18 points of his own, primarily coming in the paint. When looking at the stat sheet, there was practically no competition down low between these two teams. By the end of the game, the Bonnies recorded 15 offensive rebounds, leading to 17 second chance points and 40 points total in the paint.
According to Osunniyi, maintaining control even when Duquesne was going on a run is due to this team's experience. With a starting five dominated by upperclassmen, the cohesion and camaraderie this team has formed has been a major key to success.
"We know how to keep our composure," Ossuniyi said. "We know that if we want to win a game, we need to get stops on defense and let our offense come together itself."
While Coach Mark Schmidt assured the press that their focus is on winning this tournament, he felt like today's win was a clear indicator that his team was worthy of an at-large bid.
"One thing that could fix everything is controlling our own destiny by winning out," Schmidt said. "We’ve had a great season, we’ve won the A-10 regular season for the first time, but we just have to focus on what we can control."
The Bonnies will take on Saint Louis tomorrow in the first Semi-Final game.
Game 2: Saint Louis 86 UMass 72
In his post game presser, Tre Mitchell seemed fixated on his copy of the box score. When asked what specific stat he was looking for, he admitted it was rebounding.
"45 to 22?" Mitchell asked the press. "Granted, they've got a lot of big bodies going to the glass every possession, but we were just watching the ball go through the air the whole game."
Offensively, SLU outrebounded UMass 15-3, resulting in 11 second chance points, as well as 38 points in the paint. Despite shooting a respectable 43% from the field, this imbalance on the glass killed any chance of UMass stringing together multiple baskets.
"They're getting 2, 3, 4 chances on the offensive glass," Mitchell said. "You're just not going to win a basketball game if you allow that to happen."
Tre Mitchell led all scorers today with 30 points.
When asked about his teams rebounding, Billikens Coach Travis Ford was happy to see his team return to form. While a strong paint presence has been a pillar of Ford's time at Saint Louis, the inconsistency in play this season due to the pandemic has made it tough for his big guys to really excel until now. In tomorrow's semifinal, Ford hopes to get solid minutes out of all of them.
"It was a physical game inside," Ford said. "French can play multiple positions, we had him a bit at the four lately. Jimmy Bell and Martin Linssen give us some physicality inside, but they’ll all play."
Despite the size, Ford knows that in a league like the A-10, you need shooters to succeed. Luckily, Yuri Collins has returned to form as a premier scorer on this team, dropping 17 points to go along with 5 assists and a steal.
"We all know he runs our team," Ford said. "He’s great at passing the ball, running our plays. He can score, he just doesn’t look to score a lot. Tonight he did because it was there."
Saint Louis will take on the Bonnies tomorrow in the first semifinal game.
Game 3: VCU 73 Dayton 68
As I've mentioned all week, VCU's success in this tournament depended entirely on Bones Hyland's status regarding his foot injury. Today against Dayton, Bones returned making a major statement with his offensive play, with 23 points off 9-13 shooting in the first half alone. According to Coach Mike Rhoades, Hyland's final shot at the halftime buzzer was a keystone to their success in the second half. When asked about his stellar shooting, Hyland felt like he really found his rhythm in his first game back.
"After my first two shots, I felt like the net got wider for me," Hyland said. "With that last shot, I knew it was money, so I threw it up there. That moment was definitely priceless."
While Hyland sat for a large portion of the second half, a move he attributed to "catching his wind" after his recent absence, he would go onto to finish the game with an even 30 points.
Even with the great performance offensively, VCU was not a one trick pony today. Jumping quickly to an 11-1 lead and forcing Dayton to crawl their way back, the Rams nauseating defense proved to be quite a struggle for a Dayton team that can usually make high-skill shots look easy.
"VCU is a team that doesn’t let you run your plays," Dayton's Jalen Crutcher admitted. "They make you make new plays on the fly, so they can be really tough." In the first half, Dayton was held to just 40% from the field, while the Rams shot 57% in that same period.
Coach Mike Rhoades had nothing but respect for his opponents after the game, however. According to Rhodes, he knew Dayton was going to be able to make a second half run to keep it close, which they did, but praised his defense to maintain their lead to the end.
"At times we’re immature, but we’re competitive," Rhoades said. "We steadied the ship, and found the way to win. We got some defensive stops to get us the win here in March."
VCU will take on 3-seed Davidson in tomorrow's second semifinal.
Game 4: Davidson 99 George Mason 67
Davidson jumped to a 10-0 lead against the Patriots tonight and never looked back, shooting the lights out from every spot on the floor. By the time George Mason had scored 13 points, Hyunjung Lee had 13 himself. Lee would go on to finish the game with 20 points off of 8-for-12 shooting, continuing his dominance as one of the better shooters in the conference. Coach Bob McKillop has been very happy with Lee's shooting this season, and described what he loved most about his unique style.
"Did you guys understand that when he took bank shots tonight, he intended to bank it in?" McKillop asked the press. "He really purposefully works on a bank shot, and that's a tremendous credit to his parents. His dad's a coach, his mom's a former Olympian, and it's such a joy to watch that." Lee's mother, Sung Jung-A, won Silver at the 1984 games for South Korea Basketball. His father Lee Yoon-Hwan, is the head coach at Samil Commercial School in Suwon, South Korea.
Lee wasn't the only hot hand for the Wildcats tonight. Kellan Grady dropped a game-high 32 points tonight, while Luka Brajkovic and Bates Jones scored 17 and 11, respectively.
Looking ahead, Coach McKillop talked about tomorrow's matchup against VCU, and how while they won their first matchup this season. McKillop made sure to point out that this win came without facing Bones Hyland in their offense.
"Playing VCU twice in a week will be challenging," McKillop said. "I'm sure he'll be a big factor tomorrow."
VCU and Davidson's semifinal will tip off at 9.
Hasty Predictions for Tomorrow:
SLU vs. St. Bonaventure: SLU is finally starting to come together in terms of playing to their strengths, which is good when facing another talented post team like the Bonnies. I'm going to take SLU in this one, solely because I think it will help the conference get as many teams into the big dance as possible this year.
VCU vs. Davidson: I have a strong feeling this is going to be a shootout. Davidson has way more weapons that VCU right now in terms of getting a lot of shots off, so expect them to head to Dayton next weekend.