We made it! A full Atlantic 10 season, while not perfect, has survived long enough to give us a champion on Selection Sunday! While both VCU and St. Bonaventure are going dancing as 10 and 9 seeds respectively, the Bonnies will do so with an automatic bid after taking down the Rams 74-65 on Sunday Afternoon.
Let's recap what went down this afternoon, along with how both teams are felt heading into Selection Sunday.
Final: Bonaventure 74 VCU 65
While this game was not a blowout by any means, the Bonnies maintained solid control for a majority of this final. After a relatively close first half, VCU was never able to retake the lead, getting as close as seven points off of some solid runs, but unable to hold back a rolling Bonnies squad.
According to head coach Mark Schmidt, getting the win today was a huge relief considering the circumstances of this season. Despite the magnitude of this game, Coach Schmidt didn't really have a secret weapon to get the win, explaining that his team just needs to maintain the same consistency that brought them a regular season, and now tournament championship.
"Defensively, we played a really good game," Coach Schmidt said. "We rebounded, we took care of the ball, we did what got us here. It’s what we needed to do to win today, and to keep winning."
While the items on Schmidt's checklist may seem like the most basic tenets of winning a basketball game, they're all a big ask against a frustrating team like VCU. Luckily, in the two programs' third meeting this season, the Bonnies were able to dominate the glass, outrebounding the Rams 42-32 overall, 13-5 on the offensive glass. A-10 DPOY Osun Osunniyi was responsible for 3 of SBU's total 4 blocks.
Heading into this matchup, Coach Schmidt talked about evening out the strengths of this team, specifically with Osunniyi, so that their offense caught up to their defense. The Bonnies scored 30 points in the paint, along with 17 second-chance points. While their offense rolled pretty much the entire game, the Bonnies weren't too shy to hit some clutch shots, including a mid-second half bucket from Kyle Lofton. Lofton's 3-pointer extended his squad's lead to a 46-34 lead, one which the Bonnies never looked back from.
"He's our quarterback," Schmidt said of Lofton. "He handles the pressure, he gets us into sets, he guards the best guy. He is invaluable, our leader. Without Kyle on the Court, we struggle."
Lofton finished the day with 23 points and 5 rebounds. Osunniyi scored 14 while grabbing 12 boards.
For the Rams, knowing they'll get an at-large bid was not yet enough to quell the pain of today's loss.
"Even though we're upset we didn't win the championship, we're going to be really excited that we're going to the NCAA Tournament," Coach Mike Rhoades said. "In a couple of hours, we're going to be in that tournament, and nobody thought we would. That's a big deal for us."
VCU was ranked ninth in the preseason A-10 poll, creating a major chip on the shoulder that the Rams carried all the way to March Madness.
Speaking of March Madness...
Regardless of who won, both teams expressed their excitement to head down to Indianapolis tonight.
"We have to let this game go, even though it's hard," said VCU's Bones Hyland. "We have to focus on making noise in the tournament."
VCU, listed as a 10-seed in Gonzaga's region, playing 7-seed Oregon on Saturday. The Rams have missed the tournament just twice since 2011, entering the 2012 and 2015 tournaments as A-10 Champions.
According to Mark Schmidt, nothing made him more proud than seeing his team make the tournament in such a tumultuous season. Schmidt said his team's mental strength has been one of their greatest strengths.
"I told the team before the season started that the teams who were able to handle the adversity and move on when games were canceled were the teams that were going to be successful," Schmidt said. "Our guys were great at handling themselves as a team and holding themselves accountable. When you stick together against adversity, then positive things will happen."
The Bonnies are a 9-seed in Michigan's region and will take on 8-seed LSU in the first round. Their last tournament appearance was in 2018.