Words from the Weiss: Atlantic 10 MBB Championship quarterfinals musings

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Washington, DC— The third of five Atlantic 10 Championship days and second consecutive marathon days with four second round match ups comprising play Thursday and quarterfinal contests on Friday.

The scores for Friday’s play were as follows:

Rhode Island 76 VCU 67

Saint Joseph’s 68 George Mason 49

St. Bonaventure 83 Richmond 77 

Davidson 78 Saint Louis 60

Instead of a traditional recap, which can be found with many other outlets which are covering at Capital One Arena, here are some thoughts concerning each team.

Rhode Island

1. Something about the Atlantic 10 Championship brings out the best in Jeff Dowtin. It is hard to believe Dowtin is a sophomore, but has so much big-game experience.

At last season’s A-10 Championship in Pittsburgh, Dowtin did not record any turnovers and though he had his fair share of miscues Friday, every time there was a big shot needed, he was there ready to call his own number and deliver.

“It gave me a lot of confidence knowing that March is when all the big players really step up, make their game just grow even more,” he said. “Like last year was kind of a coming-out party for me, and I just love March. All the best players come out and do what they have to do to win, so I feel like I did that today.”

Dowtin came into this contest leading the conference and placing third in the NCAA with a 4.57 assist-to-turnover ratio.

2. For me the biggest sequence for Rhode Island came just prior to the first half coming to a close and it determined the winner of this game.

VCU called a timeout after an Andre Berry layup tied the contest at 33 seconds. Rhode Island needed its best defensive possession of the contest and this stand had to occur with its best defender, Stanford Robinson on the bench with two fouls.

Instead of panicking, Rhode Island stayed together and forced a shot clock violation. On the other, end freshman guard Fatts Russell beat the buzzer with a three-point shot which gave Rhody a lead and all kinds of momentum.

“We pride ourselves on defense,” senior guard Jared Terrell said. “That’s what we work on every day in practice, and it showed today. We got stops, we rebounded the ball, and we made shots at the end of the game, and we closed out with free throws.”

3. Rhode Island was dreadful from the foul line until it mattered. Starting out 3-for-11 from the foul line will not win many games in March, but Rhody found a way making the necessary free throws down the stretch to earn this hard-fought win.

Coach Dan Hurley discussed free throws and how he hopes Saturday the percentage will be noticeably higher.

“It’s about confidence,” he said. “It’s about being comfortable. It’s been a little bit of a mental block for us at the end of the season, and it hadn’t been throughout the year, but we obviously struggled with it. Maybe that was a little bit of the residue from the Davidson loss on the road, up six, 40 seconds to go, missing three front ends, having the game won and kind of giving it away. So I wasn’t feeling pretty good about shooting free throws into that last minute, but these guys have had an amazing season, and they showed their character. I think that we’ll be a different free-throw shooting team tomorrow because of the success that we had late.”

VCU

1. A turning point for VCU certainly came with 10:23 remaining in the second half. senior forward Justin Tillman picked up his fourth foul and had to go to the bench.

Though VCU was trailing by two points at the time, that deficit may have felt larger without Tillman on the court.

Tillman checked back in over five minutes later and though the VCU deficit was the same, he had to play cautiously and the damage had already been done.

“It definitely had an impact on the game,” Hurley said. “He was living at the free-throw line, just living there. And wasn’t always converting, but he put us in a ton of foul trouble by drawing contact and then shooting and then getting the call. He’s a heck of a player. We made some mistakes defensively. We didn’t guard him anywhere near as well as we guarded him the first time. We got stuck behind a lot, and again, we just didn’t think — we wanted to make him work for his twos. We felt like the only way that we could lose this game would be if we gave up a high number of threes to them.”

2. After seven consecutive years, VCU will not be making the NCAA Tournament in fact, though coach Mike Rhoades did not completely rule out the season coming to an end saying he would assess it.

Later on Twitter, VCU athletic director Ed McLaughlin tweeted the following, which seemed to hint that this season was over.

“We’re not tough enough, not strong enough and we’ve got a big off-season ahead of us,” Rhoades said. “Our workload has to increase. We’ve got to get bigger and stronger and we’ve got to get better, but these young guys are capable of doing some really good things, and you saw that in that stretch against the best team in the league. We have a ways to go, but I love that challenge, and our guys will love that challenge. It shows what you’re capable of, but it’s got to become who you are and it’s got to become a consistent pattern of how you play and how you approach things. It was very up-and-down this year, and we played a lot of young guys, a lot of new faces, and they’re going to get better because number one they’re great kids and they really care about getting better, they want to be good. Just because you have VCU on your jersey doesn’t mean it’s a win. You’ve got to show up and you’ve got to produce, and this off-season is unbelievably important to our returning players of increasing their workload and getting stronger, getting tougher, getting better, and that’s a good thing.”

Saint Joseph’s & George Mason

1. The biggest switch of the game came with a switch to zone in the second half. It was nothing in particular which led to this change but it certainly was an effective adjustment as George Mason shot 26.47% from the field.

“This might be the first time in my career we really detail the zone offense of the other team,” 22nd year Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said.

2. George Mason took the regular season matchups between these two teams by a combined five points, perhaps better known as two Ian Boyd buzzer beaters.

In those previous meetings, George Mason made 10 and eight three-point shots respectively. Friday, the Patriots shot 2-for-25 on its deep shots.

“You don’t want to take anything away from Saint Joe’s,” George Mason coach Dave Paulsen said. “They played a great game. But I think a lot of that was we ran out of gas.”

3. Martelli used his opening statement to address some who expressed a narrative different from his own. The man known as “The Dean of the Atlantic 10” certainly had fingers typing on keyboards.

“I want to be real clear about this: This team earned the bye,” he said. “I read a lot of places where we backed into the bye because of what other teams did, but we had to be in position where we had 10 league wins. The bye was important.”

Indeed the double-bye was very important as Saint Joseph’s certainly did not play its best game but remained composed and frustrated a tired George Mason squad.

The effort now has to be much more consistent against top-seeded Rhode Island.

“We’ll play a lot better tomorrow,” promised Martelli. “Now, I get it, it’s a level up. It’s a national team. All we want to do is play Sunday now. We’re playing on Saturday, and we’re playing on Saturday a lot because of these seniors.”

4. George Mason continues to grow as a program and will return everyone on its roster, which makes Paulsen happy given how much he clearly enjoys this group, though he wants next season to begin now.

“I’m really excited and optimistic about the future of the program,” he said. “We can’t take anything for granted, but if we work like we did, and every indication we’ve got a group of high-character guys who want to work, who want to be coached, and there’s no substitute for experience.  I think we survived (this year) and actually in a pretty good fashion and gave ourselves some momentum, and we’ll go from being young, small and lacking depth to next year we’ll be older. Nothing is guaranteed, but I feel comfortable next year that we’ll have the roster where I want to have the roster in terms of guys who really buy into our culture and who have experience and the size and athleticism and skill level to really compete, I think, at a high level in the Atlantic 10.”

St. Bonaventure

1. St. Bonaventure senior guard Jaylen Adams tied his season-low point total in this game with five, but fellow senior guard Matt Mobley more than made up for that.

Mobley tied a career-high and set an Atlantic 10 Championship single-game high with nine made three-point shots, scoring 29 points in the victory.

“We told each other last year that no matter what, both of us can’t have an off game at the same time, so you know, he was struggling a little bit, wasn’t really getting open looks,” he said. “They did a great job defending him. So I had a lot of open looks. Teammates did a great job of finding me, and I was knocking down the shots. I just wanted to keep giving us a little confidence and push the lead out the second half.”

2. This win gives St. Bonaventure 13 in a row and now brings its record to 25-6 on the season.

Richmond coach Chris Mooney referred to the Bonnies as “definitely an NCAA (Tournament) team” but the approach St. Bonaventure is taking is similar to the one Rhode Island took throughout last season’s conference tournament.

I think the only way we can secure our spot is winning the whole thing, honestly. You know, the snub in 2016, everybody remembers that, and we don’t want to go through that again, so the only way to avoid that is to try to win this whole thing, so we’re going to come back tomorrow, either Saint Louis or Davidson, and try to get a win.

3. Though St. Bonaventure opened the second half 10-for-10 from the field, Richmond made timely shots and collectively had a nose for the basketball which kept it in the game.

During this now, 13-game winning streak, eight of the victories, including the one Friday have been by single digits, which helped a St. Bonaventure team that had some hardships at the free throw line.

“It talks about how tough they are mentally and physically,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “You know, there was a lot of adversity in this 13-game win streak. There’s been a lot of adversity, and our guys have made the plays when they needed to make the plays. We work on stuff in practice, try to put pressure on them, but there’s nothing like a game, and they’ve done a really good job of making the plays, not just offensively but defensively, and that’s why we’ve had the success that we’ve had.”

Richmond

1. Richmond redshirt junior guard Khwan Fore set a career-high in this game with his 25 points, best his previous best by one point.

Fore was steady while playing a complete game and added six rebounds to his performance. Richmond fought together and for each other and it was Fore who led by example while others certainly followed.

“I thought Khwan played a great game, as good of a game as any guard we’ve had here, and I just thought our fight was tremendous,” Mooney said. “So I’m extremely proud and wish we had more basketball to play.”

Mooney did confirm that this loss ended Richmond’s season.

2. Mooney feels very good about his team and this is a stark contrast to the fans who were calling for his head in November.

On paper, this was a 12 win season for Richmond, but it did hit a stride in conference play.

“You know, I feel great about our team,” Mooney said. “Our coaches stayed positive, and each day they came to work, and we got a little bit better and found some success. I don’t know if it was one thing, I just think that our guys maturing, learning about college basketball, having new roles for the guys who were back, and just consistently approaching every day.”

Davidson

1. Of all the teams with a double-bye, Davidson played the most consistent game start to finish. Saint Louis never really got off much of a run and coach Bob McKillop had his team ready.

“I understand that dynamic very well; coming from a southern conference where we consistently did receive a bye, and it’s kind of a new experience for us to get a double-bye here in the A-10,” he said. “We just focused on getting better, and Saint Louis had our attention. They had our attention because they played us such a tight game January 3, it was a three-point game and they hit a shot at the buzzer that could have tied it. So they had our attention because how good they are.”

2. McKillop offered two quotes and an opening statement, so here in full is the latter.

“I thought we executed remarkably well. You look at our shooting percentage and it’s an indication of that. I think our turnover ratio indicates that, as well. Making shots clearly helps, and Travis Ford does a really great job of switching his defenses and mixing his defenses and we don’t make shots, we’re in a lot of trouble today. So making shots really saved the game for us.”

Saint Louis

1. Good on Saint Louis coach Travis Ford who told the couple of reporters at postgame media availability that Friday simply was not the Billiken’s night.

” I can sit up here ask talk about it, it was all about them,” he said. “They played tremendous. Very well prepared. Their stars played great, off the chart. It just wasn’t our night. It was Davidson’s night, plain and simple.”

Saint Louis has not ruled out the possibility of postseason play.

2. This season easily could have provided enough ebbs and flows to keep a team down, but Saint Louis stood tall.

Whether it was injury or an off-the-court scandal, Saint Louis handled each issue professionally and Ford was equally as impressed with his team.

“It says a lot about them,” he said. “This team, I’m really proud of them. This team, enjoyed coming to practice every day and they gave me everything they had. That’s one thing; they left it on the court. I’ve been doing this a long time, 21 years as a college head coach, and sometimes the last loss is tough because maybe you didn’t play your best or maybe guys didn’t leave it on the court. We left it all on the court. I’ve got no issue with how our team played and the effort they gave. It was terrific.”

3. When the game’s final outcome had been decided and less than two minutes before the final buzzer, Ford subbed out senior Davell Roby so that he could get a proper ovation from all of the Saint Louis fans from administrators Chris May and Janet Oberle to family and friends.

Friday, Roby willed his team with 26 points and these kinds of efforts were present both on and off the court.

“He’s meant a lot to the university to our basketball team and to our athletic department,” Ford said. “Here is a young man who came from Memphis, Tennessee to Saint Louis University and gave Saint Louis University a chance and Saint Louis University gave him a chance and Davell Roby took advantage of that. I’ve said it many times in the last couple weeks, talking about him as a senior: He’s a true student athlete. He’s the definition. His picture should be right there by student athlete. He has taken full advantage of an incredible education that you get at Saint Louis University. Incredible. It’s not an easy place academically; it’s challenging.

“In the two years that I’ve known him, I’ve never had to call him into my office because he missed a class or because he missed a tutor or didn’t do well in a class or whatever it is. He rises to the occasion. He’s learned at Saint Louis University how to be a very accountable, responsible young man. He’s prepared for the next step, whatever that is for him, because he’s put a lot in to Saint Louis University, a lot, time and effort and great attitude, a lot. He’s put a lot into it, and Saint Louis University has given a lot back to him. For two years, like I said, he has a smile on his face every single day; and as I told him, man, he’s always going to have me in his corner for what he’s represented.

Here are the two semifinals contests, both of which will be televised by CBS Sports Network.

1 Rhode Island vs 4 Saint Joseph’s 1:00

2 St. Bonaventure vs 3 Davidson 3:30

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Zachary Weiss

Zachary Weiss has had a 10 year journalism career, with the past three mainly focusing on Duquesne Athletics and the Atlantic 10.

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