Jacob Hebda | Staff Writer
Fans of the Atlantic 10 Conference have plenty to be excited about following the conclusion of the league’s annual men’s basketball championship tournament, which was played in Washington, D.C., from March 7-11 at Capital One Arena. In what was considered a down year from the season’s outset for the A-10, the conference still managed to send three of its 14 teams to this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Representing the A-10 this year on the game’s grandest stage is Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure and Davidson. In the lead-up to Selection Sunday, most expected Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure to qualify for the tournament handily, but Davidson managed to swipe a spot in the NCAA field by surprisingly winning the conference’s championship game, 58-57, over A-10 regular season champion Rhode Island.
The title game, which took place just hours before the much-anticipated NCAA Tournament Selection Show, was about as exciting a game as you could wish for.
It was a close matchup throughout, as an eight-point advantage for Davidson in the second half proved to be biggest difference between the teams throughout the entire game.
However, if you are a fan of offensive showcases, this game probably wasn’t for you. While both teams shot decently well in the first half, the second half was a completely different story.
The clubs each struggled to generate any offense after the break, as Davidson shot 28.6 percent while the Rams completed only a measly 30.8 percent of their field goals.
The Wildcats made just one of their final 13 field goal attempts in the contest. The Rams also struggled down the stretch, missing their last four shots. Rhode Island ended up going the final 2:49 without scoring at all.
In the game’s deciding moments, star freshman guard Kellan Grady hit a shot to give Davidson a 58-57 advantage with just over a minute to play. Rhode Island was unable to capitalize off of some late opportunities to put itself back on top, and the Wildcats held on to win.
The nail-biting championship game capped off what was an all-around entertaining week of competitive A-10 basketball. Of the tournament’s 13 matchups, nine were decided by single-digit differences on the scoreboard.
However, besides Davidson winning the tourney title, there were relatively few surprises otherwise. The semifinal round consisted of the tournament’s top-four seeded squads: Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, Davidson and Saint Joseph’s.
Unfortunately for Duquesne fans, the Dukes’ time in Washington was short-lived. In Head Coach Keith Dambrot’s first-ever A-10 Tournament appearance, his team sputtered to an 81-68 defeat against the No. 7 seed Richmond Spiders on March 8, in the tourney’s second round.
In his final outing as a Duke, graduate transfer guard Rene Castro-Caneddy led his team with 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the floor. Mike Lewis II had a solid performance with 14 points. Tarin Smith, the recently-named A-10 Sixth Man of the Year, chipped in 10 points in the loss.
Despite decent individual performances from their guards, the Dukes could not keep up with Richmond, as they failed to take the lead even once in the contest. The Spiders controlled the boards by a 33-23 margin and shot a hot 57.4 percent from the field, compared to Duquesne’s completion percentage of 45.1.
The Spiders’ offense was powered by freshman guard Jacob Gilyard. Held scoreless when Richmond visited A.J. Palumbo Center in January, Gilyard came up big this time around. The Richmond guard led the game with 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Gilyard connected on all five of his free throw attempts in the contest, as well.
The defeat marked the end of an up-and-down season for Duquesne. After getting off to a shockingly hot start in conference play, the Dukes — who were selected to finish dead last in the conference at No. 14 in the A-10 Preseason Coaches Poll — finished 7-11 in conference, good enough for a No. 10 seed in the conference tournament as well as a first-round bye.
Despite a sobering late-season losing streak, a 16-16 overall record is an encouraging step in the right direction. Last season, Duquesne finished 10-22 overall and an absolutely dismal 3-15 in league play. So while the year ended in a bit of disappointment for Dukes supporters, there is definite cause for optimism in the near future with a plethora of new faces joining the team next season.
Meanwhile, Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure and Davidson are preparing to represent the Atlantic 10 in the NCAA Tournament — somewhere Duquesne hopes to find itself within the next few years.
In its First Four matchup versus fellow East Region No. 11 seed UCLA on March 13 at the University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio, the No. 11 seed Bonnies prevailed over the Pac-12 powerhouse, 65-58, advancing to face No. 6-seeded Florida on Thursday in Dallas.
St. Bonaventure was led by junior forward Courtney Stockard against the Bruins on Tuesday. Stockard helped the Bonnies make up for a poor night on the offensive side of the ball for star senior guards Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, scoring 26 crucial points against UCLA. Adams and Mobley shot a combined 6-of-28 from the field.
Both No. 7-seeded Rhode Island and No. 12 seed Davidson are facing tough tests in their respective opening round games, as well. Dan Hurley’s Rams will be looking for a way to contain stellar freshman Trae Young of the Oklahoma Sooners. While Oklahoma struggled down the season’s homestretch, going 6-12 in its final 18 games, Young has enough offensive talent alone to will the Sooners to a victory or two in the tournament.
The matchup, set for PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh on Thursday afternoon, should be one of the more exciting opening round games that the tournament has to offer.
Another intriguing matchup featuring an A-10 squad will pit No. 12-seeded Davidson against the No. 5 Kentucky Wildcats, one of the game’s bonafide blue blood programs. The Wildcats are an inexperienced squad that has struggled at times this season; however, they come roaring into the national tournament as SEC Tournament champions and winners of their last three contests.
While the A-10 Tournament may have concluded this past weekend, the conference’s top dogs still have plenty of meaningful basketball left to play.