2012 ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT COVERAGE
By: Ian Nolan, Atlantic 10 Columnist
SUNDAY MARCH 11TH- CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
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Atlantic 10 Championship #4 St. Bonaventure vs. #3 Xavier
The Outcome: St. Bonaventure may have used a their bench and role players to a large extent to earn a trip to the finals but it was their All American candidate and future NBA draft pick Andrew Nicholson who carried them to their first ever Atlantic 10 Championship in history.
Nicholson and the Bonnies down third seeded Xavier 67 to 56 on Sunday and bubble teams around the nation were crestfallen.
Nicholson earned the tournament's MVP honors after scoring 26 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and recording eight blocks in the league final.
After the game head coach Mark Schmidt said that "everyone needs to know and play their roll on the team. Role players have to know they are role players, the point guard has to take care of the ball, and the star needs to be a star" in the biggest game for the program in a decade.
Today, Nicholson did just that and more.
Bonaventure led in the first half by as many as 16 points, but Xavier quickly erased that lead in the second half and with 10:03 to play in the game the third seeding Bonnies held just a four point advantage.
From there, the Bonnies found their feet and did not stumble to the finish connecting on 22-25 free throws, never giving Xavier the chance to climb back into the drivers' seat.
Dez Wells' bucket at that 10:03 mark was as close as the Musketeers would get.
Bonaventure nursed a two to three possession lead up until the final 3:35 when a Charlon Kloof lay-up gave the Brown and White an eight point advantage that would not shrink any lower than seven points the rest of the way.
St. Bonaventure will likely receive a 12 or 13 seed in the tournament, while Xavier will also receive an at-large bid. Xavier had been 4-0 in the league final prior to this afternoon.
The Atlantic 10 will be a four bid league after a season which teams beat each other up during the entire the entire conference slate.
When asked if his players realized what they had accomplished for the university and program as a whole Schmidt was quick to say that his guys had "no idea...but I wouldn't have either when I was 18."
The Difference: St. Bonaventure wasn't completely able to shut down the Tu Holloway-Mark Lyons duo (Holloway finished with 17 while Lyons chipped in 16) but they did clamp down defensively as a whole and held the Musketeers to just 33% shooting for the game and 2-13 from beyond the three point line. Bonaventure has displayed a terrific defense all season long and limited Xavier to many one and done possessions thanks to their +13 rebounding margin (42-29). Bonaventure big men Nicholson, Da'Quan Cook and Youssou N'Doye held Kenny Frease to a 2-10 effort from the floor and Andre Walker to just 2-7. Although Nicholson's ability to carry this Bonaventure team on his back will garner the headlines and there's nothing wrong with that, it was the Bonnies ability to defend Xavier and rebound the basketball that ultimately led to their first ever league title.
The Playmaker: Andrew Nicholson. When Bonnies head coach Mark Schmidt was first told of Nicholson's game from assist Jeff Massey, Schmidt claims Massey likened Nicholson to former Ohio State big man Greg Oden. When Schmidt saw Nicholson take the floor in his open gym on a recruiting visit, Schmidt asked Massey, "This kid?". By the end of that same open gym, he said he had goosebumps. Four years later, the Nicholson and Schmidt combo will go down in school history as the team that has brought the program all the way back; not only to respectability but to the top of the conference for for the first time. Nicholson set a finals record for blocks with eight and was not only the Bonnies best scoring option, but was the defensive force needed to slow Xavier in the lane. His 16 blocks over the three game span are also a conference record.
The "X" Factor: No other Bonnie even scored in double figures in this game but the X factor was St. Bonaventure's ability to defend the three point line. Xavier had been a team that all weekend thrived on their three point shooting via Lyons and Holloway. Today, the Bonnies simply took that club out of their bag and forced Xavier to take the ball to the rim where they used they superior interior defense to create tough shots. Conversely, in the first half the Bonnies who made just one three pointer against Saint Joseph's on Friday, connected on five three point field goals sending their crowd into a freenzy. Although SBU went 0-5 from three in the games' final 20 minutes, their ability to shut down the Xavier three point line and knock down a few of their own was a major factor in this game.
The Stat: With the lead trimmed to four points St. Bonaventure knew they would need every single point they could muster. The answer to that of course was shooting 22-25 or 88% from the free throw line. St. Bonaventure missed several big foul shots down the stretch against UMass but learned their lesson after barely surviving to play today. Today, the Bonnies knocked down 18-19 second half foul shots. They rank 18th nationally in free throw percentage.
3:30 PM EST- Semifinal # 2 Saint Louis vs. #3 Xavier
The Outcome: Xavier outlasted Saint Louis in a gritty, more pedestrian-paced second semifinal by a score of 71-64. With the win, Xavier looks to grab the league's automatic bid tomorrow if it can vanquish the underdog and likely crowd-favorite St. Bonaventure at 1pm Eastern on CBS.
The Difference: Yin and Yang, from defense to offense for the Musketeers. In the first half, Xavier manned-up defensively and forced Saint Louis into a putrid shooting half, just 29.2%. Chris Mack's club was able to clamp down during the latter part of the first frame and turn a 19-17 deficit into a six point lead, 29-23, at the half.
In the second half, Saint Louis' offense came alive as the Billikens shot a more than respectable 50% from the floor. The problem for Majerus' club was that it was simply unable to bottle up Xavier, which scorched the nets to the tune of 65% on 13 of 20 shooting overall and 5 of 8 from three point range. Ultimately, the sweet-shooting helped the Muskies push the pace to one more favorable for their execution and posted 42 second half points against a Saint Louis defense that normally gives up only about 58 points per game.
The Playmaker: Holloway who took control of Xavier's game last night against Dayton turned in a similar effort tonight in terms of setting the table and running a Xavier offense that shot 65% in the second half and 53% for the game. Holloway, again was able to get into the lane and create his own space with a terrific crossover and step-back jumper. Holloway finished the game with just 3-8 shooting from three but hit those three deep balls in critical stretches that gave Xavier a comfortable advantage at times.
The "X" Factor: For a while, it looked to be Saint Louis sophomore guard Jordair Jett, who chipped in with so many heady plays in the second half and was able to get to the rim and generate scoring opportunities from the line. Jett finished with 11 points, three steals, several deflections and possession extenders, three boards and ZERO turnovers. Ultimately, however, it was the efficiency of Xavier freshman Dez Wells down the stretch and one huge back-breaking three-pointer by junior guard Mark Lyons with X clinging to a 60-58 lead with about 2 minutes remaining. Saint Louis has methodically snuck back into the contest and looked poised to swipe a spot in the final opposite St. Bonaventure, when Lyons unleashed a bomb from the right wing with a hand in his face that caught all net. From there, caretaking and free throw shooting salted it away for X.
The Stat: Dez Wells, playing in his first ever Atlantic 10 Tournament, put together an impressive and controlled offensive display in teaming with senior guard Tu Holloway (21 points) to lead the Muskies. Wells was 6 for 8 from the floor and a perfect 6 for 6 from the charity stripe. He also grabbed five boards.
The Stat 2: The most curious stat belonged to Saint Louis forward Brian Conklin, who posted his average of 14 points but had absolutely zero boards.
1:00 PM EST -Semifinal: #4 St. Bonaventure vs. #8 UMass
The Outcome: Saint Bonaventure watched a 16 point second half lead vanish to just one with 18 seconds remaining but a Charlon Kloof made three throw with 14 seconds left and a missed three pointer by Raphiael Putney with two seconds to play sealed the win for the fourth seeded Bonnies, 84-80.
Saint Bonaventure advances to play the winner of the #2 Saint Louis vs. #3 Xavier winner at 1 PM EST.
St. Bonaventure advances to their first conference championship game since 2000-2001 when they fell by 21 points to Temple. The Bonnies' 19 wins are the most in program history in over a decade.
For a program that was in ruins when head coach Mark Schmidt took the reigns, they are within 40 minutes of capping an improbable run to the NCAA tournament.
Schmidt has had some help in getting here with future NBA pick, senior Andrew Nicholson (19 points, six rebounds).
Today however was not about the Bonnies' big man in the middle as it was a team effort.
Bonaventure led the Minutemen by seven points at the break, despite Nicholson picking up two fouls and playing only ten minutes in the opening frame. The Bonnies received big time contributions off the bench from junior Chris Johnson (14 points) and Eric Mosley (five points).
In the second half however, UMass turned up the pressure and turned the Bonnies over again and again.
Trailing by 16 points with 7:29 to play, UMass chipped away at the Bonaventure lead, eventually cutting it to just four points with 43 seconds to play after a Kloof made free throw.
From there, Sean Carter of UMass connected on a free throw cutting the lead to just three; a one possession game. Bonnies point guard Kloof turned the ball over on the next possession after UMass' point guard Chaz Williams (12 points, six rebounds and five assists) stripped him at mid-court and raced to the rim. There, Kloof fouled him and the ball rolled off the front end of the rim.
Williams would make both freebies and cut the Bonaventure led to one point with 18 ticks left.
UMass' then fouled Kloof with 14 seconds left, sending him to the line in the double bonus.
Kloof missed the first but made the second to extend the Bonaventure lead to two, 82-80.
UMass would have the ball and a chance to tie or win the game in the closing moments.
However, the best look Derek Kellogg's club could muster was a Putney 25 footer that hit the back of the iron and fell into the hands of Bonnies guard Matt Wright who canned two free throws to put the game out of reach with two seconds left.
The Difference: Had UMass pulled off the frantic comeback this section would certainly have been devoted to their high pressure full court press that turned the tide of the game; and nearly won it for them. But, the Bonnies prevailed so we will go in another direction. When all league and all world forward Nicholson picked up his second foul with 9:33 left in the first half the Bonnies were at a critical juncture in the contest. That's when Schmidt's bench stepped up. Johnson scored 14 points off the pine and grabbed three rebounds. Back-up point guard Eric Mosley scored five points on a terrific reverse lay-up and three pointer that helped give the Bonnies some energy with their star regulated to the bench. Yesterday against Saint Joseph's it was Kloof (19 points) who stepped up and shouldered a scoring load, today it was the junior Johnson.
The Playmaker: Demitrius Conger turned in one of his finest games as a Bonnie during the semifinal. Conger scored 22 points, grabbed ten rebounds and dished out eight assists, nearly recording a triple-double. With Nicholson on the bench Conger became the Bonnies number one scoring option and he answered the bell time and time again in the first half. His ability to get into the lane and finish tough lay-ups were vital in keeping pace with UMass during the first frame. Known for his solid all-around game, Conger did everything in this one.
The "X" Factor: Sophomore point guard Charlon Kloof averaged just six points and 2.5 assists this season but has been coming on strong in the seasons' final weeks. Kloof scored a career high 19 points yesterday and today scored ten more while dishing out four assists and pulling down three rebounds. More impressive was Kloof's ability to take care of the basketball against the UMass pressure defense. Kloof played 29 minutes and only turned the ball over one time against a defense that was as good as any he has seen in his short college career.
The Stat: Because UMass' thrives on pushing the tempo and scoring easy transition buckets the stat of the game has to be the Bonnies ability to hold the Minutemen to just eight fast break points; a number they matched. In addition, UMass scored just 14 points off turnovers. A team that turned the top seeded Temple Owls over 20 plus times a day ago, was only able to turn the Bonnies over ten times in 40 minutes. If UMass was to win this game, they would have done so because of their ability to turn St. Bonaventure over and turn the game into a track meet. Schmidt and company did a fine job assured that didn't happen and did their best to slow the pace.
Game 4 (9:00 EST): # 6 Dayton vs. #3 Xavier
The Outcome: Tu Holloway scored 21 points and Mark Lyons scored the final six points for Xavier as the #3 Musketeers downed #6 Dayton in the Friday night finale on Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
Xavier advances to the semi-final tomorrow afternoon to face #2 Saint Louis at 3:30 EST.
With both teams playing for an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament, it was the Musketeers who came out on top and improved their status on the bubble.
Dayton however will look back on this game as one that got away in the most critical of times.
UD's Paul Williams connected on a three pointer with six seconds left in the first half to give the Flyers a 38-28 lead heading into the lockerroom. Dayton had just completed nine to five run over the final 2:44 of the half. The Flyers were brimming with confidence and Xavier, like on so many nights recently, looked lost and at times uninterested.
Then Tu Holloway woke up.
Holloway scored the first six points of the first half and ignited a 17 point Xavier run that spanned just under six minutes. After trailing at the half by ten points, Xavier had tied the game at 45 apiece with 14:08 to play following a Tu Holloway three pointer. During that stretch Holloway scored 11 points and center Kenny Frease chipped in five of his own.
The lead that Archie Miller's club worked so hard to build up in the first half was gone in the blink of an eye.
From there, the game was nip and tuck.
No lead was larger than six points for either club over the final 14 minutes and change, and both teams had chances to ice the game in the closing minutes.
While Holloway started the Musketeers' comeback, sophomore guard Mark Lyons ended it.
Lyons scored the final six points of the game for Xavier, who all but crushed Dayton's hopes of earning an at-large NCAA bid.
With 3:02 to play following a Matt Kavanaugh dunk off a Kevin Dillard feed, Dayton led 68-63 and was a stop or two away from putting the game out of reach.
That's when Lyons did his best Mariano Rivera impression.
Lyons was fouled going up for a lay-up with 2:47 to play and connected on both foul shots. Xavier then trailed by four. On the next possession, Lyons got to the rim again and connected on a spinning lay-up, while getting fouled by Kavanuagh. Lyons made the free throw to trim the Dayton lead to one. Following a Kevin Dillard missed three pointer, and missed jumpers from Holloway and Dauyton's Chris Johnson, Lyons finished off the Flyers.
With 21 seconds left, Lyons received a clear out and connected on yet another lay-up, completing the comeback for the Musketeers.
Dayton had their chances to crush the Musketeers comeback hopes however, but failed on two occasions to seal a victory.
Point guard Kevin Dillard dropped off a perfect pass in the lane for Matt Kavanaugh but his lay-up rolled in and then out before being knocked out of bounds by Xavier with six seconds left. After Miller called a timeout, Dayton was only able to muster up an off-balance heave from Chris Johnson from beyond the three point line; the shot fell short of the rim.
For the Flyers, Dillard played extremely well and finished the game 18 points and six assists. At times, Dillard and Holloway took over the game and were playing a game of who could one up who. Paul Williams and Josh Parker each had 11 points for UD who shot 38% for the game and was just 8-26 (30%) from three.
The Difference: The second half adjustments and fire power of Holloway and Lyons were the difference in this game, as well as Dayton's inability to create good looks down the stretch. Holloway looked like the Holloway of November during Xavier's second half run and Lyons appeared every bit the dangerous scorer he is in the games' closing moments. As far as Dayton is concerned, their offense simply lacked creativity down the stretch as they failed to make a single field goal over the final 4:01 of the game. Their only points during the final four were a pair of Kavanaugh free throws at 3:02 remaining. From there, it was simply on Dillard to use a ball screen and attempt to create for himself or others; Xavier rose to the occasion on the defensive end. That said, Kavanaugh's missed three footer with six seconds left was a great look and would have likely sealed a win that could have put them right on the bubble.
The Playmaker: Holloway has been much maligned this season and rightfully so. But tonight the senior point guard showed why he is still one of the most dangerous playmakers in the league. His energy and scoring ability put X back in the game early in the second half and his ability to create off the bounce was on full display in the final 20 minutes. Tu finished the game shooting 8-16 from the field and 2-5 from three. He has played in bigger games in his career, but this was Xavier's biggest game of the season and with their NCAA tournament hopes seemingly crashing to the ground, Xavier's best player stepped up and carried them to a victory when they needed it most.
The "X" Factor: Center Kenny Frease may not have taken a step forward this year in his development but he picked a hell of a game to find his touch from the foul line. Frease shot 9-14 from the stipe in this one, and finished the game with 17 points and seven rebounds to go along with three assists. A 51% free throw shooter this season, Frease looked like a different player on the line in the second half, knocking down freebie after freebie. Frease finished at the rim and with contact against Dayton, shooting 4-7 from the field and earning those seven trips to the stripe.
The Stat: Dayton's 26 three pointers are evidence number 1 as to the struggles the Flyers had offensively. Too many times Dillard was holding the ball at the end of the shoot clock and passing to the wings (Oliver, Williams, Parker, Fabrizius) and watching his teammates put up contested three pointers. Dayton did very little in terms of penetration the Xavier defense and settled for far too many jump shots. Their 30% shooting from behind the arch is a testament to Xavier's tough interior defense. Even in the games final six seconds, with Dayton trailing by just one point, the Flyers were forced/elected to shoot a three pointer they did not need.
Game 3 (6:30 EST): #7 La Salle vs. #2 Saint Louis
The Outcome: #2 Saint Louis held off a tough and determined La Salle club in the opening game of the nightcap by a score of 78-71.
Saint Louis advances to the second semi-final game tomorrow night and will face the winner of the final game of the evening; # 6 Dayton vs. #3 Xavier.
Saint Louis nearly the game wire to wire and were ahead by as many as 12 points during the contest. The Billikens and Explorers both shot 44% from the floor, but it was SLU's ability to score in the paint that was the difference in a game that saw a very even final stat sheet in terms of shooting %, rebounding (33-29 SLU), turnovers (12-15 La Salle) and three pointers made (8-9 SLU).
Saint Louis opened a 52-41 lead with 10:25 to play in the second half after a Mike McCall Jr. made lay-up but from there La Salle scrapped and clawed their way back into the game as they have done all season long.
A pair of Steve Zack free throws, followed by a three pointer via Ramone Galloway, an Earl Pettis jumper and then another Zack free throw cut that lead from 11 points to just three in a matter of three minutes and change.
After fighting back to stretch their lead to five again with 5:54 to play on a McCall three pointer, La Salle would again prove pesky.
A Jerrell Wright jumper, immediately followed by a dunk from the freshman cut the SLU lead to just one point with 4:39 remaining.
Majerus called a timeout and from there La Salle would get no closer.
SLU outscored La Salle 20-16 over the last 4:03 seconds to secure the victory stretching their lead to as many as seven points with 1:34 to play after a another McCall Jr. three point field goal.
Explorer's senior Sam Mills lead La Salle with 18 points and shot 6-15 from the field. Ramon Galloway was held in check in the first half finished the game with 14 points on 5-10 shooting and 2-5 shooting from three.
La Salle recored seven steals in the game.
La Salle did have hopes of stealing a win with 37 seconds left on the clock after Tyreek Duren knocked down a pair of free throws to cut the lead to just four at 71-67. SLU responded with a McCall lay-up and a foul. After connecting on the free throws, the lead was back to seven points with just 28 seconds remaining in the game.
The Difference: La Salle was bothered all night by Saint Louis' ability to run their offense through a series of slip screens as well as pick and rolls through their forwards. Give credit to Brian Conklin, Cody Ellis and Dwyane Evans who executed those sets well all night. Conklin finished the game with 14 points, Evans with nine and Lowe with seven. SLU's frontcourt trio was difference as the Billikens were able to count on high percentage of field goal attempts in and around the paint thanks to their ability to run those actions. Meanwhile, La Salle, who has relied so much on the three point shot this season finished the game shooting 40% from deep. La Salle's inability to defend Majerus' offensive sets is the reason why Saint Louis is moving on to play tomorrow and the Explorers will be crossing their fingers for an NIT bid come Sunday night.
The Playmaker: Without question it was Kwamain Mitchell. Mitchell was able to facilitate a patient and methodical offense and never forced the issue. Mitchell is clearly very comfortable playing within Majerus' system and uses the talent around him to the best of his abilities. Mitchell finished the game with 15 points and a game high seven helpers. Six Saint Louis players finished the game with at least seven points and a lot of that credit has to go to the point guard who helped set up those scoring opportunities.
The "X" Factor: Jordair Jett finished the game with 13 points for the first time since February 1st when he scored as many against St. Bonaventure. Since then, Jett has scored no more than seven points in any game. Tonight however, Jett was instant offense and energy off the bench for Saint Louis. Jett finished the game with 13 points and five rebounds and was an effective and tidy 4-5 from the floor. With Cody Ellis and Cory Remekun contributing a combined four points off the pine for the Billikens, Jett's contributions were enormous in retrospect. A speedy and athletic guard, Jett used his quick first step to get past La Salle defenders and excelled in transition all night. He teams will on the wing with McCall giving the Billikens great quickness on both sides of the ball.
The Stat: Saint Louis' backcourt certainly came to play on Friday night as the trio of Jett, McCall and Mitchell combined to score 44 points. The trio also connected on a combined six three pointers and 13 rebounds.
Game 2 (2:30 EST): #5 Saint Joseph's vs. #4 Saint Bonaventure
The Outcome: Saint Bonaventure downed fifth seeded Saint Joseph's by a score of 71-68 capping an exciting afternoon on basketball on Boardwalk Hall. It is the first time since 2000 that the Bonnies are making an appearance in the semi-final. Their 18 wins is also the most since that same season.
Bonaventure advances to play UMass tomorrow afternoon with the winner earning a trip to the conference finals on Sunday afternoon.
The two clubs previously met back on February 8th in Amherst where the Bonnies feel by nine points.
Andrew Nicholson, the league's Player of the Year scored a game high 25 points and grabbed ten rebounds and at times, single handedly carried the Bonnies to their second victory over the Hawks in two weeks. Saint Joseph's used hot outside shooting (9-22 from three) to keep pace with the Bonnies who dominated the Hawks in the paint as well as on the glass.
The game as a classic match of guards vs. forwards.
Nicholson and his 25, as well as Da'Quan Cook and his eight points, helped the Bonnies score 46 points in the paint while holding the Hawks to a mere 22 points inside the lane. Saint Bonaventure, one of the top two rebounding teams in the league, also dominated the glass, outrebounding the Hawks 35 to 26. However, Bonaventure shot just 1-8 from three point land and missed several key free throws at the end of the contest.
Meanwhile, the Hawks shot 40% from deep and 55% in the second half. Kanacevic set terrific high ball screens throughout the game and Bonaventure's guards were not able to get over top of them.
Junior point guard Carl Jones led the Hawks with 24 points, including four three pointers. Saint Joseph's did not receive much help however from their big men, as C.J. Aiken was held to just five points and four rebounds and Halil Kanacevic totaled just eight points and as many rebounds.
After airballing a turn-around jump shot with under 40 seconds to play, Andrew Nicholson turned in the game's two key plays on successive possessions that eventually sealed the win for the fourth seed.
First, he took a charge call under the basket as Carl Jones drove the lane forcing a Hawks turnover. Then, with the Hawks holding the ball, trailing by two with the shot clock turned off, Nicholson blocked Jones on a lay-up under the basket to seal the win. Bonnies guard Matt Wright collected the lose ball rebound and was fouled with 0.6 seconds left. He hit one free throw but there was too little time left for the Hawks.
The loss ends any hopes that Saint Joseph's had of earning a
trip to the NCAA field this year. They should be a lock for the
The Difference: Saint Bonaventure was exposed in this game as a team that doesn't have the outside shooting to go on big runs in the blink of an eye (like UMass). However, give Mark Schmidt a ton of credit for designing a game plan around Nicholson to get to the paint and line as often as possible. The Bonnies shot 23 free throws (hitting 18 of them) and got Nicholson 18 shots in the process. Saint Joseph's simply did not have an answer inside and late in the game, Bonaventure's trips to the foul line became routine. Saint Joseph's had been so hot from the field in the second half but came up empty on their final two possessions thanks to Nicholson. If Bonaventure is to advance again tomorrow, the recipe will have to be more of the same against a UMass team that much like Saint Joseph's, is carried by their guards and explosive offense. Tomorrow, Bonnies' guards Wright, Conger and Gathers will need to hit some deep balls to keep pace with the Minutemen.
The Playmaker: Bonnies sophomore point guard Charlon Kloof registered a career high with 19 points in the win and came up with the games biggest shots. Not known for his penetrating ability during this season, Kloof was able to get into the paint early and often in this one, attempting eight free throws. In a game where the Bonnies needed someone else to step up alongside Nicholson, Kloof came to play in the biggest game of his young career. Recruited and signed from a prep school in the Canary Islands off the cost of Spain, Schmidt joked in the presser that he "Thought the islands were off the cost of South America." Schmidt then said he would be making more visits back there for recruiting purpose. It seems in Kloof, the Bonnies have a point guard whose turning the corner at the right time with two more years of eligibility left.
The "X" Factor: St. Bonaventure knew they would have a decided advantage down low with Andrew Nicholson and fellow senior Da'Quan Cook but they probably didn't bank on the contributions of freshman Youssou Ndoye. Ndoye entered the game early in the second half after Cook picked up his second foul and was a game changer. Ndoye collected eight boards in the first half and finished the game with nine total to go along with four points and a pair of monster blocks. Ndoye's two handed dunk the first half and block of a Carl Jones lay-up energized the Bonaventure bench. Cook heading to the bench early could have spelled disaster for the Bonnies but Ndoye rose to the occasion and much like Kloof, turned in one of his best efforts of the year in the Bonnies do or die game.
The Stat: How about these teams playing 90 minutes of basketball over the last two weeks and the largest lead being a mere six points. Today, the game saw nine ties and a ridiculous 24 lead changes. The entire game was played nearly within one possession and the players knew that the slightest run could potentially put the game out of reach.
The Links: To read the post game comments from St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt click the link provided here.
Game 1 (12:00 EST): #8 UMass vs. #1 Temple
The Outcome: The Minutemen downed the top seeded Owls 77-71 in the opening game of the tournament in front of a crowd that featured large cheering sections for both clubs.
UMass moves on to play the winner of the St. Bonaventure vs. Saint Joseph's game this afternoon. Game time is set for 1 PM tomorrow.
UMass used a 15-0 run to open the second half and held off the top seed despite hot shooting in the second half from Ramon Moore and Juan Fernandez. Uncharacteristic of Temple, Fran Dunphy's club turned the ball over 22 times thanks in large part to UMass' terrific half-court and 3/4 court pressure defense. Chaz Williams finished with 20 points and 10 assists, helping to run a UMass' offense that shot 9-16 from three point land.
In a game that featured seven lead changes and three ties, the outcome was ultimately decided by a hot shooting UMass team that connected on 85% of their second half three pointers and shot 50% overall from the field in the final 20 minutes of play.
The game was the last Atlantic 10 game for league staples Juan Fernandez and Michael Eric. The game also ended the hopes that the Owls would win their fourth league championship in five years.
For Temple, the Owls shot equally as well from deep (7-17) and earned a plus nine advantage on the glass.
It wasn't enough.
UMass controlled the tempo of the game from start to finish and ended the game with 19 fast break points to the Owls' two. Also worth noting, Jesse Morgan chipped in 21 points via 8-13 shooting. Temple senior Michael Eric collected a game high 11 rebounds. Juan Fernandez, a former all tournament player, finished the game with 12 points and six assists. The Owls will now wait for Selection Sunday to find out where they will be seeded; they are considered a "lock" for an at-large bid.
The Difference: UMass was able to dictate the pace of the game and their ability to push the ball in transition led to open three pointers while Temple defenders were still running back. UMass' 19 fast break points offset their inability to control the glass where Temple earned the plus nine advantage. Chaz Williams was the engine and driver inside the Minutemen offense, constantly pushing the ball at a break neck pace. Williams played all 40 minutes and shot 5-12 from the field and 8-10 from the line.
The Playmaker: Chaz Williams will get a ton of credit for this win, and deservedly so. Williams has been a godsend to this UMass team who so desperately needed someone to facilitate their offensive scheme. Williams was named the College Chalktalk's First Team All Conference and today showed why. Williams is a nightmare for opposing defensives because of his quickness and ability to finish in the lane despite his complete lack of size. Could Williams become this year's Kevin Anderson?
The "X" Factor: Easily Jess Morgan. Morgan led all scorers in the game with 21 points and his 3-4 shooting from deep helped to fuel that 15-0 UMass run that turned the tide of the game. The sophomore, and Philadelphia native, averaged just under ten points this year. Morgan played in front of a large collection of family and friends and they were not disappointed. While Temple was able to contain Raphiael Putney (six points), Terrell Vinson (eight points) and Sean Carter (six points), Morgan really became the difference in this game and helped push the Minutemen over the top.
The Stat: Temple is a team that prides itself on valuing the basketball and relying on their experience to bail them out of late and close games. In this one however, Fran Dunphy's club turned the ball over 22 times which contributed to many of the 19 fast break points collected by UMass. Credit UMass for using terrific pressure defense to ignite their offensive game. Kellogg and company knew that the best way to beat the stingy Temple defense was to beat it before it was set.
The Links: To read post game comments from winning head coach Derek Kellogg check out the link provided here.