Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Game 1: St. Bonaventure 71 Saint Louis 53
Punching their ticket to the Atlantic 10 Championship game next Sunday in Dayton, the Bonnies put on a dominant performance in Saint Louis. While this was an all-around solid performance, there's no doubt this game was won in the paint, on both sides of the floor. According to Bonnies Head Coach Mark Scmidt, his team made up for their last meeting with the Billikens and then some.
"We couldn't have played better," Schmidt said. "Saint Louis is a very physical team, they dominated us in our last meeting, so I thought the key to the game [tonight] was to control it in the paint."
In Saturday's first semifinal, the Bonnies outscored the Billikens 34 to 20 in the paint. Defensively, Saint Louis was held to a season-low 53 points. The Bonnies 9 blocks tied the record for third all-time in an A-10 Tournament game. Out of those 9 blocks, Osun Osunniyi accounted for 7 of them.
"Osun is incredible," described teammate Kyle Lofton, who finished with 12 points and a block of his own. "He has potential to be a pro right now. He picks up after all of us, he’s a great rebounder, and just has a great feel for the game." Fellow Bonnie Jalen Adaway added his own short contribution to Lofton comments regarding Osun.
"Defensive player of the year."
In a normal year, the Bonnies would have a very quick turnaround in terms of preparing for the final that would take place the next day. When asked about this extra preparation time, Coach Schmidt talked about how while carrying over momentum in a tournament like this is important, the added time to prepare is a welcome change.
"The A-10 has done a great job handling this situation," Schmidt said. "We understand that's how its going, so we’ll go home, take a couple days off, and prepare for whatever team we’re about to play. We’re just happy to be here in the finals, even if we were playing out in the parking lot."
As for the Billikens, Coach Travis Ford is confident that his team's season is not done. While acknowledging that it will be a big ask, Ford said that he will look into scheduling one more game before selection Sunday. Even if that doesn't happen, Ford feels like his team is tournament worthy.
"The NIT is still a possibility if we don't make the tournament," Ford said. "But if they [the selection committee] dissect it and the right people tell our story, I think we should be in [the NCAA Tournament]."
Saint Louis' resume is highlighted by early season wins against LSU and NC State, as well as a 6-4 record in A-10 play which includes a dominant home win over St. Bonaventure. While losses against Dayton and VCU are sure to be blemishes, both came off of long pauses due to positive Covid tests within the program.
Game 2: VCU 64 Davidson 52
Ok guys, look. I'm no Nostradamus. I said last night that this semifinal would be a shootout, and in the first half, boy was I wrong. In the first half, there was a combined total of 16 made field goals out of 59 shot, with Davidson entering the break at 16% from the field. Neither team passed the 15-point mark within the first 10 minutes of play.
Despite the shots not hitting, the Rams felt confident in their ability to push through and secure a spot in the final. While the shots may not have been hitting, the plays creating those shots were exactly what they wanted.
"We were playing the right way, we just didn’t finish on offense, so I wasn’t upset at all," Head Coach Mike Rhoades said. "I just felt like we needed to stick with it and finish, find some great shots instead of good shots. In the second half, we did that."
The Rams clearly picked up their scoring in the second half, shooting a whopping 65% from the field in the last 20 minutes. While the Wildcats clearly were not at their best from the field tonight, VCU deserves plenty of credit for disrupting their opponent's offense with their unique, frustrating style of defense. According to senior forward Corey Douglas Jr., VCU's big men made sure they were at the top of their game defensively, using their patent brand of "deny and disrupt."
"It [defense] was definitely a focus," Douglas said. "In shootaround we discussed it, we went over it in film, and even before the game Coach Scott pulled some bigs together and told us that we had to fight tonight."
Finishing 9th in the preseason A-10 poll, competing for a conference tournament champion is above and beyond anything expected of this VCU team, except, apparently, for VCU.
"You never count out young people that have the same purpose," Rhoades said. "I’ve always been like that. That nine in front of us preseason was just a number. It wasn’t who we were. We used it as motivation a little bit, but I didn’t think that of this group."
As for Davidson, their future as of now is unclear. Most bracketology pundits have them playing in the NIT, with the only barrier to that bid being a decision by Davidson to finish and reduce anymore risks to Covid exposure. According to Bob McKillop, the focus right now is to decompress and reflect on the season up to this point.
"I don’t look too far into the future," McKillop said. "I just don’t have the mental capacity to look too far at what’s in front of me, I was just looking at the game directly ahead of us. We’ll go home in a bus tomorrow, and I don’t know our next step. It’s just a difficult way to end this tournament."
St. Bonaventure and VCU will face off in the A-10 Championship game next Sunday at 1. They'll travel to Dayton for the final.
A Hasty Final Prediction
This isn't the only stat that matters heading into this final, but it's too wild not to share: this season, the Bonnies are 11-0 when outrebounding their opponent. Considering how much that helped them get to the final, expect Osun to try and put on another career performance. VCU has solid big men of their own, but I think the Bonnies will outmuscle the Rams and punch their autobid to the big dance. Rams fans, don't fret, I think your team will also be named on Selection Sunday.