(Rhode Island celebrates after the final whistle – Photo by Jason Schott)
The Atlantic 10 Tournament quarterfinals on Friday afternoon at Barclays Center opened with a bang, as the eighth-seeded Rhode Island Rams upset the top-seed VCU Rams, 75-70. In the second game of the day session, St. Bonaventure rolled to a 68-57 victory over George Mason. The Rams and Bonnies will face off in the first semifinal on Saturday at 1:00 p.m.
Rhode Island 75, VCU 70:
VCU led this one 37-34 at halftime, and were up six, at 45-49, on a Marcus Santos-Silva three-point play at the 17:40 mark of the second half.
Rhode Island stormed back with a 7-0 run that changed the complexion of this game and gave them a 46-45 lead on a Dana Tate layup at 16:20.
It stayed even for the next ten minutes or so, and VCU took the lead back, at 62-61, on an Isaac Vann layup at the 7:27 mark.
Once again, Rhode Island went on a big run, 9-0 this time, capped by a Cyril Langeville layup that made it 70-62 with 5:08 left.
The closest VCU got the rest of the way was just three points, and URI sealed the win when Christion Thompson drained a pair of free throws with 2 seconds left to make it 75-70.
Jeff Dowtin led the way for Rhode Island with 22 points on 8-18 fro the field, including 2-2 from behind the arc, with 3 rebounds and an assist. Tyrese Martin had 13 points (6-10 FG, 1-4 threes), with 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal. Dana Tate had 12 points on a superb 5-6 shooting (2-2 on threes), with 6 rebounds, 2 assists, a block, and a steal. Cyril Langevine had 7 points (3-8 FG), and 9 rebounds, just missing a double-double.
VCU was led by Marcus Santos-Silva, who had 26 points on 8-14 from the field and 10-14 from the charity stripe, with 22 rebounds (10 offensive), an assist, a block, and a steal.
Rhode Island Head Coach David Cox said of the win, “Well, that win right there was a testament to the strength and the culture of this basketball program and obviously these two individuals up here on the stage with me. Our guys have gone through a lot of adversity this year. They have shown a tremendous amount of resiliency. They have continued to play hard and they have continued to play together, and now we are reaping some of those benefits. That was just an outstanding effort today. We took some big shots from that team, particularly in the first half, and then the way they started off the second half on a nice little run, but we closed the gap. We stayed together. We trusted in one another, and just I’m awfully proud of this group of young men. Looking to ready to tomorrow’s semifinals.”
Dowtin said of their emotional celebration after the game and where it comes from, “Just from being disrespected throughout this whole season. Nobody really counted on us. Everybody counted us out, but we stuck together as a family. You know, this is a brotherhood for us. We’re one small little group of family that just trust in each other and that just shows on the court.”
Tate said of their mindset, “Definitely feel like we’re playing with a chip on our shoulder. Like these guys have said, we’ve been playing through adversity all year, counted out, disrespected and we just stuck together. Coach believes in us and we believe in ourselves. We carry those emotions and that disrespect every game and go out there and give it our all.”
Cox was asked if there was a moment he knew they could pull of the upset, and he said, “Not any particular play, no. I thought our guys were in the game the entire time. I thought we just fighting not matter what. When we went down eight in the first half, our guys kept continuing to fight. Went down eight again, our guys continued to fight. Started the second half with a turnover and a layup for them, went down early and our guys continued to fight.
“No, there was no particular play. I just thought our guys showed a lot of togetherness tonight, and as they have throughout the year and they fought through adversity and showed a tremendous amount of resiliency. So yeah, no particular play but just all night, 40 minutes, it was a battle, a man’s game, hand-to-hand combat, and fortunately we came out on top.”
Cox said of how focused they were on beating VCU, “We were excited about this game. You’ve got to understand, the last time we played them, they literally wiped the floor with us (76-42 on February 19), and you know, that was hard to take, hard to swallow.
“And what it did, as Christion Thompson said, it was almost necessary. It put us at the bottom and we had to come together or separate, and what we did is we came together; we had meetings; we had some very tough practices, and the guys responded very well. And I think that’s what you saw today. They wanted to — they wanted the opportunity to get back kind of at VCU and that’s what you saw today.”
Rhode Island had nearly as many fans as VCU did for this one, and Cox said of their supporters, “I’ve said this throughout the year, and I want to give a lot of credit to all the fans, all those Rhode fans who made the trip down here. They have been tremendous for us the entire year.
“You know, we laid some eggs in that Ryan Center, and those people have continued to come back and continued to support and now they make a two-and-a-half, three-hour trek down here. So I wanted them to know that I appreciated them (referencing when he waved for them to make noise), and obviously I probably got a little caught up in the emotion of the game, but you know, that’s what it is. It’s a big game. It’s March, and you know, again, thank you to all the roady fans. Hope to see you guys tomorrow.”
St. Bonaventure 68, George Mason 57:
St. Bonaventure, the fourth-seed in the tournament, jumped out to a 10-point lead at halftime, 34-24, and they maintained around a seven-point edge throughout the second half on their way to a solid victory over fifth-seeded George Mason.
The Bonnies were led by Dominick Welch and Kyle Lofton, who each had 20 points and shot 6-12. All of Welch’s shots were from behind the arc, while Lofton was 4-6 on three-point attempts. Lofton added 5 assists and 3 rebounds, while Welch added 5 rebounds, 3 blocks, and an assist.
The Bonnies also got a big contribution from LaDarien Griffin had a double-double with 10 points (3-11 FG) and 11 rebounds, along with 3 blocks, 2 steals, and an assist.
Bonnies Coach Mark Schmidt said of the win, “Going into the game, our goal is to try to get to the NCAA Tournament and the only way we’re going to do that is if we can win this thing. We’ve got to take it one game at a time. I thought these two guys, these from freshmen up here played extremely well.
“Dom (Welch) hit some huge shots. Kyle had hurt his ankle, had not practiced in three days and came out and played extremely well. You know, when we defend, we’re a really good basketball team. I think we’re 15-0 when we hold teams under 60 points, and our guys, you know, we knew going into the game, George Mason, two really good guards, and we have to have at least one of them have an off-night, and I thought Kier played extremely well. I thought we did a really good job in Livingston, and that’s the key. We kept them off the foul line. It was a good victory. Now it’s on to Rhode Island, on to a team that’s playing exceptionally well.”
St. Bonaventure kept Mason’s stud pair of guards in check. Justin Kier had 20 points, which was the team lead, but he shot just 7-17 and 2-6 on three-pointers, with 7 rebounds and 2 assists. Otis Livingston II was held to 6 points (2-9 FG, 2-7 threes), with 4 rebounds and 2 assists.
Schmidt said of their defense against that tandem, “They have good guards. They are really well-coached. You know, we have a saying, no paint, no foul. In the league, I think they make 70 more foul shots than their opponent.
“So the key was to try to keep them off the line and try to keep them above the foul line, above Kier and Livingston are just so good off the bounce. We thought maybe we could survive if just one of them played well. So the key was the knowns (ph). We knew we had to do a good job on the knowns.
“I thought Kier, whatever he got, 20 points, but I thought we did a good job on Livingston, and you know, we have to take care of the basketball. We have to defend in the halfcourt, try to keep them out of transition. We took care of the ball, 17 assists, seven turnovers, so they didn’t get any points off of our turnovers and I think if we keep them in the halfcourt, we’re a good defensive team. We held them to what, 38 percent, 25 percent from threes and those are great numbers, and when we win, those are the numbers that need to be. You know, we were really successful in the half short. I thought Osun does a really good job of making our defense that much more difficult with him back there blocking shots. LaDarien did a really good job, he had a double-double.
“Going into the game, they are well-coached. They play all that ball screen stuff. We try to keep the ball out of the paint and try to make them take contested shots and do a decent job on the backboard. In Game 1 down there, they beat us by 20 on the backboard and beat us by nine today, but we can survive that. We can’t survive if we get out rebounded by 20.”