Thursday, March 14, 2024

A-10 Tourney Day 3: Barclays Center Turns Into Upset Central


St. Bonaventure celebrates after beating Loyola of Chicago in double overtime. Photo by Jason Schott.

The Atlantic 10 Tournament took a major turn on Thursday as the top four seeds were eliminated. St. Joseph's knocked off the top seed, Richmond, 66-61, then VCU knocked off the fourth seed, UMass, 73-59, in afternoon action. The night session began with No. 7 St. Bonaventure knocking off No. 2 Loyola Chicago, 75-74, in double overtime, and finally, No. 3 Dayton fell to No. 6 Duquesne, 65-57.

No. 9 Saint Joseph's 66, No. 1 Richmond 61:

Richmond led this one, 24-22, at halftime, and then held a 10-point edge, 45-35 nine minutes into the second half. St. Joseph's responded with a 9-0 run capped by a Christ Essandoko, and they took the lead with 3:19 remaining when Erik Reynolds II completed a three-point play that made it 54-53. Rasheer Fleming put it away with a trio of free throws in the final minutes that put St. Joseph's up 64-59 with just 22 seconds on the clock.

St. Joseph's was led by Erik Reynolds II, who had 30 points, including 17 in the second half, as he shot 11-19 overall, including 3-8 on three-pointers, with three rebounds, two steals, and an assist. Cameron Brown had 10 points (4-10 FG, 2-5 threes), seven rebounds, and two assists. Rasheer Fleming had six points (1-3, 0-2 threes, 4-6 free throws) and 12 rebounds.

Richmond was led by Neal Quinn, who had 21 points on a superb 10-13 from the field, including 1-1 on threes, with four assists and three rebounds. Jordan King had 17 points (5-16 FG, 3-9 threes), four assists, and a rebound.

St. Joseph's Head Coach Billy Lange said afterwards, "Two things. Number one, I just honestly praise God that I get another day to coach a great group of guys. And it's these two (referencing Reynolds II and Brown). They've endured a lot here to just get to this point. And they're just faithful believers. I don't have any other word to say it. So to just have the blessing to get one more opportunity, one more meal together, one more film session together, one more conversation with someone. To just keep going, he gets the glory for that. Because it can end at any second.

"The second thing is, and it really is a testament to how good our conference is. That's a great team. That's an NCAA tournament team. So the world has to get it right. Because we just keep projecting all the 'who fits' in the NCAA Tournament. So I've been in this position before, where you have an amazing season and then you've got one game to try to prove your worth and value - and it's not right. And their whole season shouldn't be judged by that. 

"For (Richmond Head Coach) Chris [Mooney] to come back from what he dealt with last year, to have a whole new roster. Richmond is a no-joke school. My wife went to school there. She's not mad at me, though. But she went to school there. It's hard to get those guys through. They deserve a lot of credit. The ball goes in or it doesn't. And a lot of times we decide how we feel about a season based on that. But that's an NCAA Tournament team. Whether we are or not remains to be seen, but that is. And it's unfortunate that our conference is not getting the recognition nationally that it should. That's a really, really good team. And I just think that we should celebrate their season. They had a heck of a season and that's what makes this a really good win for us."

Richmond Head Coach Chris Mooney said, "Congratulations to Saint Joe's. I thought they played a great game. We played them last week in Richmond and had a good game with them. Today, I thought obviously Eric Reynolds had a tremendous college basketball game. It was really hard for us - I thought we guarded him and made him take difficult shots, but he was able to make them. Overall, they played really well.

"I thought our team played extremely hard. Our effort, alertness, moving the ball, defense. I thought everything was really, really good. Unfortunately, sometimes the other team still wins. So congratulations to Saint Joe's. But I couldn't be more proud of our team."

Even though Richmond finished with a record of 23-9 and a share of the A10 regular season title with Loyola of Chicago, they likely will not make the NCAA Tournament. 

Mooney said of that, "Yeah, every tournament has - every postseason has expanded - the NFL, the Olympics, the World Cup, college, women's basketball. And I think we have over 360 teams now. Scheduling is really difficult since the Power Five conferences went to 20 conference games. And there's no one directing anyone to schedule. You just find out your schedule is not good enough in March. So it's a really impossible situation. I feel bad for our guys, because they're here at this time when a team of this caliber in the A-10 historically is an NCAA team. I think in the future, maybe if there is expansion as an NCAA team. Right now, you know, it's frustrating. Because the A-10, 15 really, great basketball schools will have one, maybe two teams in the tournament. And that doesn't seem accurate."

No. 5 VCU 73, No. 4 Massachusetts 59: VCU played about as perfect a first half as you could to take full command of this game, as they raced out to a 42-25 lead. The Rams shot 54.5 percent (12-22 overall) and 5-9 (55.6 percent) from behind the arc, while holding the Minutemen to just 25.0 percent (7-28) from the field and 1-9 (11.1 percent) on three-pointers.

UMAss never got closer than six points in the second half, 65-59, with 4:24 on the clock, and VCU pitched a shutout the rest of the way, closing the game on an 8-0 run.

Michael Belle putting up a layup that made it 65-56 at the 4:37 mark of the second half. Photo by Jason Schott.

VCU was led by Joe Bamisile, who had 18 points, nine of which came in the first half, on 6-9 shooting, including 4-6 on three-pointers, with a rebound and an assist. Zeb Jackson had 17 points, including 11 in the opening stanza, on 3-9 from the field, 1-4 on threes, and a superb 10-11 from the charity stripe, with five assists, four rebounds, and four steals. 

UMass was led by Rahsool Diggins, who had 21 points (7-16 FG, 4-10 threes), with an assist and a steal. Josh Cohen had 14 points (3-5 FG, 8-9 free throws), six rebounds, two steals, and an assist.

VCU Head Coach Ryan Odom said afterwards, "Yeah, I'm just really proud of our guys. We knew what we were facing with such a well-coached, really tough-minded UMass team. They got the best of us, obviously, in our first matchup in Amherst, and certainly our guys were excited to play in this game, certainly because of the opportunity to play in the A-10 Tournament and, obviously, the stakes at this point here in our conference, but also a chance to play against them as well.

"I thought our guys did a nice job. We got off to a little bit of a slow start. It was 5-0. They got two offensive rebounds, and we were a little bit irritated with one another at that point. And then from then on, our guys began to play the way the tough-together basketball that we needed in order to come out with a win.

"Obviously, they're really hard to guard in and around the basket. They challenge you. They beat you up with their post-ups in a very legal way, and they can make you very fatigued. And we had to play all three of our bigs today I order to fight that and give ourselves a chance. And I thought the zone obviously was an important factor in that, just to give us some time away from the post-ups."

UMass Head Coach Frank Martin said, "Much credit to VCU. They obviously came out, and they just outplayed us in that first half. The hole was too big to crawl out of against a team that doesn't really turn the ball over. But my guys emptied their tank from day one this year. They've left it on the court every single time we've taken the court and today was no different. Unfortunately, we had some empty possessions once got it to six and couldn't get closer."

Martin was asked what his halftime address to the team was like, and he said, "Yeah, at halftime, these kids have given us everything that we've asked of them. It's postseason play. You don't go in there; there's no Knute Rockne speech that overcomes a 17-point deficit. It's not the time to - back in November I might have gone in there and challenge people a little but, challenge a winning team.

"Come on, there's a reason they're winners. We spoke about - we created the problem. Right in the stretch of the game in the first half, we committed six hand-check fouls in seven possessions. And we didn't commit any hand checks the rest of the game. But in that segment, we committed six in seven sessions and gave them ten free throws. Then we had empty possessions, and that's when the game kind of went from four, five, six to 14, 15, or whatever it was.

"We spoke about we created the problem. We're not trying to win the game at the 16-minute mark or at halftime. We just got to figure out a way to get us where we can win the game in the last media segment of the game. And that's what we did. Unfortunately, we had those empty possessions there at the end of the game."

No. 7 St. Bonaventure 75, No. 2 Loyola Chicago 74 (Double overtime): 

In a game that will be remembered in the annals of this tournament, St. Bonavanture battled back from an 11-point deficit to outlast Loyola Chicago in double overtime.

Loyola Chicago dominated early, as they had a nine-point edge at the half, 31-22, and they had that 11-point lead as late as the 6:02 mark of the second half.

A Barry Evans three-pointer at the 5:45 mark began a 10-0 run to close out regulation and that that knotted the game at 58.

In overtime, it was St. Bonaventure who jumped out to a 62-58 edge, making it in essence a 14-0 run, but Loyola Chicago responded with a 5-0 clip to retake the lead.

Darryl Banks III drained a three-pointer to give St. Bonaventure a 65-63 lead with just 29 seconds on the clock.

Philip Alston got to the line for Loyola Chicago with 17 seconds left, and he missed the first free throws. His second attempt rimmed out, but he swooped in to grab the rebound and slammed one home to tie the game at 65.

That would be the score heading into the second overtime period, which the Bonnies opened again with a four-point edge. Loyola Chicago would bounce back again, and they took the lead when Dame Adelekun drained a pair of free throws at the 32-second mark that made it 74-72. Adelekun had six points in the second OT.

The Bonnies wasted no time on their ensuing possession, and Banks III made it to the free throw line with 12 seconds left, and he buried all three of his free throws to give them a 75-74 lead.

Loyola Chicago had one final shot, but Des Watson's three-pointer was just off the target as time expired.

Darryl Banks III draining the third of his three free throws to clinch the win. Photo by Jason Schott.

St. Bonaventure was led by Darryl Banks III, who had 22 points on 4-12 from the field, 2-6 on three-pointers, and a perfect 12-12 from the free throw line, with eight rebounds and two assists in 43 minutes. Mika Adams-Woods played 48 of the 50 minutes in this one, and he had 13 points (4-13 FG, 0-4 threes, 5-5 FT), with seven rebounds and two assists. Noel Brown also had 13 points on 4-5 from the field, with five rebounds.

Loyola Chicago was led by Philip Alston, who had 22 points on 7-13 from the field, 2-2 on three-pointers, and 6-10 from the charity stripe, with eight rebounds and an assist. Miles Rubin had 12 points (5-8 FG), eight rebounds, and an assist. Dame Adelekun also had 12 points (4-12 FG), with 10 rebounds to give him a double-double, and two assists.

St. Bonaventure Head Coach Mark Schmidt said afterwards, "Great college game. Back and forth. I thought we showed great toughness. We got down double digits early. I think we got down double digits again sometime during that game. We're not a pretty team, as you saw tonight. But we have some gritty guys, and they produce. The guy next to me (Daryl Banks III) has struggled throughout the year, but those struggles, he never quit, and kept on fighting and fighting and deserved a game like today. 

"I thought Barry Evans did a great job, coming in, spacing us out a little bit. They're a great defensive team. I thought spacing out helped us a little bit. But we defended them. We were tough, we were physical. We played small a lot. Just to be outrebounded by only five is a credit to our guys. And to hold that team to 33 percent (overall) and 26 percent from threes, that's a credit to our guys."

Schmidt said of how they have found a way to pull out close games two days in a row in Brooklyn, "That's a good question. I wish I knew. I just thought, you know, we kept on playing. One of the reporters talked about we were down 11 or 15, then 11. If you don't have any character guys, if you don't have competitive guys, you just quit. You lay down. And we didn't lay down. We got character guys. We've got competitors, and they just kept on fighting. Like I said, it wasn't pretty, but we made the plays. They missed some shots, but we shoot 27-31. In games like this, when you get into the tournament, it's one or two plays. And we made those plays that we needed to make. Some luck on our side, for sure. But we have competitive guys. They're fun to coach."

When asked how his experience has helped his team, Schmidt said, "My experience? Yeah, I'm old, I got no hair. But yeah, I think experience is a big key. I've been there before. As a young coach, you may panic a little bit. But when you have good players, it makes me look much better. But we have a veteran team, even though they played in our system for only one or two years. All those guys have been in tough situations, pressure situations. I'm lucky to have those guys out there producing."

Like Richmond, Loyola Chicago finishes with a 23-9 record and likely out of the NCAA Tournament.

Loyola Chicago Head Coach Drew Valentine said afterwards, "First of all, credit to Bonaventure. It was a gritty, intense college basketball game, where it looked like two teams who really, really wanted to win. So credit to them for finding a way to pull it out. But I told my team in the locker room after the game that this game doesn't define our season. And if anybody thinks that it does, then you're totally wrong, because what we did to be regular season champions in the Atlantic-10, it means something - especially in our second year, especially with the way that our season went last year.

"So I'm proud of my group. I feel like we're a postseason team. I think we deserve to be a postseason team. I think we've proven we're good enough to be a postseason team. I think the metrics will tell you that. I think from an eye test perspective, I think we deserve that as well. And then look, man, the way that they celebrated after the game, we're doing something right. If people are that excited to beat us and are that passionate, we're doing something right. So we're walking off the court with our head high, with our dignity, with our class. And I'm proud of my group and what we've been able to accomplish this year in the Atlantic-10."

No. 6 Duquesne 65, No. 3 Dayton 57: Duquesne was led by Jimmy Clark III, who had 16 points on 5-11 from the field, 2-4 on three-pointers, and a perfect 4-4 at the free throw line, with four assists and three rebounds. Dae Dae Grant had 11 points (4-13 FG, 1-6 threes), with three rebounds and two assists.

Duquesne Head Coach Keith Dambrot said afterwards, "First, unbelievable admiration for the Dayton program and their coaching staff. Just great people. Great team. Just fortunate to beat them. We played - we took their punches and punched back, which I think these guys have really learned how to do over the course of the year. And we've been in a lot of games now where we're making more winning plays when it matters. But that's a very difficult team to play against. And if you can hold them to 57 points, you did an unbelievable job."

NEXT UP: After an off day Friday, it is Semifinal Saturday, with Saint Joseph's taking on VCU at 1:00 PM, followed by St. Bonaventure and Duquesne playing at 3:30 PM. 

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