DAYTON, Ohio – Entering the Atlantic 10 Tournament, St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt repeatedly talked to his team about its opportunity to do something that no other team in the storied history of the program has ever done - win both the Atlantic 10 outright regular season and postseason tournament championships.
The Bonnies had already won its first outright regular season crown in program history and entered Sunday's A-10 Championship Game VCU with the opportunity to take both titles.
Check that box.
St. Bonaventure led for the majority of the day, built a double-digit second half lead and weathered a VCU rally effort to win the Atlantic 10's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with a 74-65 victory at Dayton's UD Arena.
Osun Osunniyi won Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors after a dominating tourney performance capped by a double-double of 14 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks Sunday.
Kyle Lofton was electric during the second half, keying Bona's push with 23 points and six assists to take All-Tournament honors for the second time of his career, doing so as a freshman as well. Jalen Adaway also earned a spot on the All-Championship Team, finishing with 10 points and six rebounds.
St. Bonaventure (16-4) led for much of the first half after the Rams grabbed a narrow edge in the first minutes.
A pair of Adaway three-pointers followed by a rim-rattling dunk from the redshirt junior pushed the lead to five before back-to-back treys from Lofton gave the Bonnies a two-possession edge 13 minutes in.
The Bonnies would go cold late in the half, at one point missing 11 of 12 field goal tries, but the lead continued to grow with Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Bones Hyland on the bench with three fouls in the first seven minutes.
Bona's advantage stood at as much as eight points and the Bonnies would take a 32-25 lead intermission following a bucket from Jaren Holmes just before the buzzer.
The Bonnies had all the momentum out of the locker room. A dunk from Osunniyi brought the Bona faithful alive before a steal and a coast-to-coast layup courtesy of Lofton gave the Bonnies their largest lead of the day, 36-25, forcing a VCU timeout two minutes into the period.
VCU (19-7) quickly pulled within five with a quick 6-0 sprint, but Lofton then began to take over. He stemmed the tide with a three on the far wing after VCU's run, then hit a floater in the lane before drilling another three-back for a 46-34 score at the 11:26 mark.
Both teams were assessed technical fouls at the 11:26 mark, and the sequence allowed Lofton the rare opportunity at five free throws following a VCU personal as well and he calmly knocked down each one. Osunniyi followed with a 15-foot jumper for a 53-36 score.
VCU would refuse to go away.
The Rams continued to chip away, taking advantage of Osunniyi and Welch both sitting with four fouls to pull within 59-52. Osunniyi returned and his putback pushed the game back to nine at the final media timeout.
With the lead at eight, Lofton again squelched the rally attempt with an in-bound pass to Welch for a 10-point advantage and 3:10 left.
After a VCU three made it 65-58 on the next trip, Holmes connected on a runner in the lane. VCU would cut the deficit to seven once more, 67-60, but the final dagger came on a trey from Welch at the 1:16 mark, putting the game out of reach.
QUOTES FROM HEAD COACH MARK SCHMIDT
"I'm really proud of our team, players, staff and administration. We didn't change what got us here. We defended, we rebounded and we took care of the basketball. You know VCU, they're so well-coached and if you don't take care of the basketball they're going to get out on the break and their fast break numbers are lethal."
"I told the team before the season started the season that the teams that are able to handle the adversity of the year were going to be the ones that were going to be successful. We really stuck together and when you stick together and handle adversity in a positive way, good things can happen."
"It was bittersweet. Just really proud of our guys and a little bit surreal. When Dr. DePerro passed away, we honored him, this season was in his honor and one of those nets is going to his family."
"The smiles on the guy's faces is what you coach for. Those are the memories that will last a lifetime. You know, they put everything into it, it's a dream come true. This is what you dream of in the backyard. Two years ago, four of our guys, couldn't finish. A lot of times you don't get a second chance in life and those guys got a second chance and finished."
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