When a conference as talented as the Atlantic 10 is projected to be a one-bid league, all-out battles in the conference tournament are expected. On Day 2 of the 2023 A-10 Men's Basketball Championship, one round before the top four seeds enter the mix, expectations were not only met, but surpassed in the four games played at the Barclays Center on Wednesday. With 8 teams in action to try and punch punch a ticket to the Quarterfinals, let's break down each game from Wednesday's power packed slate.
Early Session Game 1: Davidson 65, St. Bonaventure 54
"We got out-physicaled," said Bonnies Head Coach Mark Schmidt following his team's Second Round loss.
From tip, it was clear that Davidson would be very busy in the paint. Ranked 10th in the conference in 3 point percentage, and going up against the 2nd-best 3 point defending team in the conference, it was up to veteran forwards like Sam Mennenga to lead Davidson's offense. Despite receiving plenty of double teams, as well as some tough post pressure from Bonnies forward Chad Venning, Mennenga was able to fight his way through contact to get the Wildcats up early, hitting a layup and then a corner 3 for 5 quick points and a 9-4 lead.
"We knew this was going to be a matchup of two All Conference-level big men [in Venning and Mennenga]," said Cats Head Coach Matt McKillop. "I don't know why Chad Venning was left off that team, but I think he very well could have been on it."
The paint was the hot zone for most of the first half, as aside from an occasional Yann Farell jumper, neither team could get much going from deep, shooting a combined 5-20 in the period. While they couldn't get their lead into single digits in the first half, Davidson kept the Bonnies at bay by forcing several scoring droughts of 2 minutes or longer, giving their offense some time to settle in and find the right shots when they came, such as a big and-1 dunk from David Skogman to put Davidson up 20-16. A huge defensive key for Davidson was winning the turnover battle, forcing 12 Bonnies takeaways while only giving up the ball 5 times themselves all game.
"For us, it was [about] being keyed in on our defensive principles," said Graduate Guard Foster Loyer, who scored 14 points against Bona. "Following the scouting report, locking in on the film that we've watched leading up to the game. Really just trying to take what we did well and emphasize it, and try to force them into situations."
The patience kindled by their defensive effort paid off in the second half, as sharpshooters like Desmond Watson exploded in key moments. Scoring 11 points in the second half for a game total of 17, Watson made a huge play in response to the Bonnies cutting their deficit down to just 5 points. Driving inside to put the Wildcats up 53-46, Watson would help seal a lead that Davidson would never relinquish.
Mennenga would finish the game with 12 points, 8 rebound, and 2 steals, leading his team to an appearance against 1-seed VCU in the Quarterfinals.
As for the Bonnies, who saw significant departures between last season and this season, the priority now shifts to recruiting.
"We've got to find some more players," explained Coach Schmidt. "Players that are going to stay."
Early Session Game 2: George Mason 62, Richmond 57
Heading into the tournament on a 6-game win streak, it would take nothing short of a brick wall to stop the George Mason Patriots in their postseason opener. Luckily for the Spiders, they had a brick wall in their back pocket in the form of Neal Quinn. Scoring 8 of Richmond's first 12 points, the Senior Center kept the Spiders offense responsive in a half full of runs, while also helping limit Mason star Josh Oduro to 8 first half points in just 5 attempted shots.
After a back-and-forth half that saw Richmond on top by 4 at the break, Andre Gustavson pushed the Spiders lead up to 8 with powerful inside drives on two consecutive offensive possessions. However, when Quinn went to the bench after his third foul, things really opened up for the Patriots. Without anyone to guard Oduro, along with Ronald Polite heating up from deep, Mason quickly rattled off an 11-0 run to completely flip the momentum of this game. With another 8 points in the second half off of 6-6 shooting from the free throw line, Josh Oduro's ability to capitalize off of contact was a refreshing improvement after shooting under 60% from the line in the regular season.
"It's about time. I've been missing a lot of free throws," Oduro explained. "[I'm] Making sure that I'm working on that. But [I'm] really proud of the way that my teammates support me and get me the ball. I'm a big man."
Defensively, Mason Head Coach Kim English said that his team's improvements in the second half were simply due to his players "guarding better," locking down key contributors, and increasing their physicality.
"Our guys had a tough mindset. They stood them up, they walled them up," Coach English explained. "If they were going to make tough shots over our guarded high hands, sometimes you've got to shake a guy's hand and jog the other way."
Despite 19 points from Richmond's Tyler Burton in the second half, Mason was able to severely limit the impact of bigs such as Matt Grace, who led the Spiders frontcourt after Quinn got into foul trouble. Grace scored just 2 points in the second half.
While Mason moves on to face Saint Louis in the quarterfinals, Richmond is left to reflect on their 15-18 finish. Tyler Burton, who has had some NBA Buzz over the last two seasons, said that his decision for a potential next move "will come at a later time."
Interim Head Coach Peter Thomas, who has taken charge of the team while Chris Mooney recovers from heart surgery, said that this brief stint at the helm has been a tremendous honor.
"It's not the way I would have wanted it to come," Thomas explained. "But [it is] certainly a dream situation to be leading the University of Richmond men's basketball team, and to be able to do it in a venue like the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Brooklyn was special for me."
Late Session Game 1: Saint Joseph's 87, George Washington 76
In a tournament with byes and double-byes, the odds are naturally stacked against teams like St. Joe's that have to come out of the First Round "Pillow Fight." However, in his fourth year with the Hawks, Head Coach Billy Lange knows that half the battle is maintaining a Championship mindset.
"The body will follow the mind, in my opinion," Lange explained. "If we condition our minds to believe that our bodies are equipped to do this, we'll get the most out of us that we can tomorrow."
In a stunning win over a solid GW team, the Hawks had to fight through some early jitters as the Colonials held a 21-10 lead at the first half under 12 timeout. Leading A-10 scorer James Bishop led the way for GW early on with 14 first half points, with sharpshooter Ricky Lindo Jr. trailing close behind him with 11 in the same timespan.
Coming out of the under-12, however, the Hawks got hot, rattling off an 11-3 run to shrink an 11-point deficit to just two with leading scorer Erik Reynolds pushing up the pace of play. Reynolds would have 7 points at the under-8 en route to 14 by halftime. On the defensive end, the Hawks would force a near 8-minute field goal drought for GW, grabbing a brief 32-29 lead before trailing by just 4 points at the break. With pretty even splits from the field and in rebounding, the Hawks found it crucial to get the edge on GW by scoring off of turnovers and getting open in transition.
"You need to get those loose baskets to give you a little bit of confidence that you can score," Coach Lange said. "Those were big shots for us, particularly in the first half. That's how we got back into the game."
Despite a back-and-forth second half with big performances from guys like Hunter Dean (6 second half points and 12 boards in the game), and 11 more points from James Bishop, the Hawks held off GW's offensive storm (or Fog, if I may) with 20 more points from Erik Reynolds, who finished the game with a career-high 34.
"I didn't even know I was about to get my career high until Cam [Brown] said something to me on the free throw line," Reynolds recalled. "But it feels good. I give a lot of credit to my teammates, though. They kept believing in me no matter how many shots I missed, or plays, or whatever, so I give a lot of credit to them. They did this for me."
The Hawks will tip off in the Quarterfinals Late Session against Dayton.
Reflecting on their 16-15 finish, their first over .500 since 2016-17, the Colonials players and Coach Chris Caputo made it clear that this season is the start of a new era for GW basketball.
"We love DC. We love the institution," Coach Caputo said. "I think I'm a good fit at GW. GW is a good fir for me. I think what the students have done, kind of rallying around the program, the players, the idea of creating a great environment at the Smith Center, there's a lot there."
Late Session Game 2: La Salle 81, Duquesne 70
The second Pillow Fight team to make it out of the Second Round, Fran Dunphy's La Salle Explorers took down Keith Dambrot's Duquesne Dukes in a slow starting contest that quickly became a shootout all the way to the end. Shooting a combined 1-9 from three-point range in the first 4 minutes of the game, the Dukes and the Explorers would hit 4 of their next 8 from deep. Dae Dae Grant led the way for Duquesne early with 13 points by the under 8, but by then, the Senior Guard was the only Duke with more than 5 points.
For La Salle, their success came way more from how they shared the ball, finding the right man to take the right shot. Despite trailing Duquesne by six at the half, six Explorers had at least one field goal, with Hassan Drame earning 3 points entirely from free throws. While still lagging behind Duquesne in turnovers, rebounds, and obviously points at the break, Coach Dunphy's squad laid the foundation for what could turn into a comeback victory.
"We did really well in the second half [in] just about every facet of our game," Coach Dunphy detailed. "Our defense was very good. We turned it over four times [in the second half], which is what we should [have been] doing in the first half [instead of ten turnovers], but I thought we were on top of our game in the second half."
After tying the game at 46 midway through the second, La Salle caught fire quickly, pulling off an 11-5 run while hitting 5 of 6 attempted field goals in that span. As they continued to push, combining smart shots from Jhamir Brickus and Khalil Brantley with strong finishing from the Drame brothers inside, La Salle eventually hit their first double digit lead of the game, which they would carry all the way to an 81-70 win.
Facing off against Fordham, a team that beat La Salle in Philly at the buzzer, in the Quarterfinals serves as a big "get back" game for Brickus and Brantley, as they described feelings of unfinished business.
"It's kind of like a get back game for us, because they beat us earlier in the season and we only got to play them one time," Brantley explained. "So this is a comeback game for us."