Without the First Four this year, UD Arena still got to host an important postseason game: the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball championship final between St. Bonaventure and VCU. Photo courtesy of Griffin Quinn, Flyer News.
With the entire NCAA Tournament moved to the state of Indiana, UD Arena lost its chance to host the First Four. However, University of Dayton Athletic Director Neil Sullivan and the rest of the university athletic department were able to take advantage of the proximity to Indianapolis and host the 2021 Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship Final.
According to Sullivan, the A-10 studied various models to “mitigate COVID” and ultimately decided to move up the First Round through Semifinals to Richmond, Va., March 3-6 and to keep the championship game on March 14 with a television window on CBS on Selection Sunday.
“Dayton just became an option for the league to have a championship game and have a good stage for it,” Sullivan said. “And I think the proximity to Indianapolis for both the winner, and hopefully the runner up would be in the NCAA tournament, just makes the COVID travel to Indianapolis a little easier and more manageable for all.”
Sullivan hesitated to give any sort of prediction or analysis for what would happen in Sunday’s final, but did say having the one and two seeds facing off is representative of the quality of the A-10.
Of course, there is still the hole that is left by not being able to host the First Four, and Sullivan said they still miss hosting the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
“We miss it all. I mean, there’s not a whole lot of silver lining in all this, we want full arenas. We want the First Four, we want the national stage. We want the big hoopla, we want it all. So, I think having basketball here in most of the state championships and the A-10 championship certainly is better and exciting, and we’re excited to do it and do it at a high level. But, clearly we want normalcy, we want a traditional setup, but this is where we are, so we’ll make the best of it and work, we’re excited to be able to do it.”
However, Sullivan did say it is bittersweet to have a more filled arena after the Flyers season ended. He said there wasn’t much else they could do, because they pushed for a variance to allow 25 percent capacity, but the variance did not get accepted until after the Flyers’ final game.
“It’s great to have some fans, it was bittersweet because all season we had been requesting a variance for Dayton basketball games to have more than 300 fans. And we were never able to get that, but shortly after our last home game the state did approve a variance and then ultimately approved a variance for up to 25 percent capacity in arenas provided you can meet certain criteria… So it’s just great to see fans and human beings in the building, which is what it’s meant for, but it’s also a little bit bittersweet to know that our season ended without fans, but we’re happy for the young people that are there playing, and it’s an exciting atmosphere for them.”
Sullivan wanted to reiterate to fans who he felt thought the university wasn’t doing enough that he and his staff did all they could to get more fans into UD Arena, but couldn’t until the variance was accepted by Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health.
“No one wanted fans in this arena more than myself and our staff for our basketball fans. So, it’s just, the timing’s unfortunate.”
When the final arrived, the 15-4 St. Bonaventure Bonnies faced the 19-6 VCU Rams, in a rubber match after they split the first two match-ups — Bonnies 70-54 win on Jan. 20 in Olean, N.Y., and Rams 67-64 win on Feb. 12 in Richmond, Va. — and a showdown between the top two teams in the A-10.
In the game itself, neither team could gain a noticeable advantage, but the Bonnies used a quick 8-0 run to open up a 27-19 lead with 6:07 left in the first half. The Bonnie led 32-25 at halftime, and had held Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland to zero points and 3 fouls.
VCU opened the second half with a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to five, but St. Bonaventure responded with a 10-3 run to push the lead back up to 46-34 with 12:01 left in the game.
With a few chippy moments throughout the game, emotions boiled over when the Bonnies were fouled on a 3-point attempt, and a fracas ensued, resulting in a pair of technical fouls for both teams. Hyland knocked down a pair of free throws on his end, but Bonnies junior guard Kyle Lofton — who finished with a game-high 23 points — knocked down the three from his shot attempt, plus two more technical free throws to push the Bonnies’ lead to 51-36 with 11:26 left in the game.
VCU was able to cut the game as close as seven a couple of times, but never really threatened, and the Bonnies cruised the rest of the way to a 74-65 win, an A-10 championship — their second (2012) — and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Junior center Osun Osunniyi finished the game with 14 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks, and was named to the All-Championship Team and Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
The rest of the all-championship team included guards Kellan Grady (Davidson), Hyland (VCU), and Lofton (St. Bonaventure), and forward Jalen Adaway and Osunniyi from St. Bonaventure.