VCU men’s basketball squares off with Bonnies for third time in A-10 championship

Freshman guard Ace Baldwin dribbles against Davidson in the A-10 semifinal game on March 6. Photo by Megan Lee

Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor

Postseason basketball is known for the tradition of cutting down the nets after winning a title. That’s a feeling that sophomore guard Bones Hyland and junior forward Vince Williams haven’t felt in their careers. 

The two starters, along with the rest of the men’s basketball team, will have the opportunity to compete for the right to cut down the nets, playing against St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10 championship game on Sunday afternoon. 

“I’ve been to many championships, but I was never able to cut down a net,” Hyland said. “I’m going to do everything I can to even try to compete for a championship and get my teammates to do the same thing.”

The Rams advanced to the championship after beating No. 7 Dayton in the quarterfinal on March 5 and No. 4 Davidson in the semifinal on March 6. 

It’s the fifth time the black and gold have played for the A-10 crown in the last eight chances. They last played in the game in 2017 and won their lone A-10 championship in 2015. 

VCU battled injuries heading into the A-10 tournament in Richmond, with Hyland returning from a sprained foot and Williams suffering a back spasm in the Dayton game. Williams exited the game early with the Flyers, but played 27 minutes against Davidson.

“I feel as though it can help us rejuvenate,” Hyland said of the gap between the semifinal and championship.

The A-10 title game will be the third meeting of the season between the Rams and the Bonnies during this season’s campaign. The first meeting was one of the rockiest games of the year for the black and gold, who led by 15 at halftime and lost the game by 16 on Jan. 20. 

Williams said the first four minutes of the second half will be the most important in the championship game. 

“I feel like the biggest key for us is the second half performance just because the first half performance is always good,” Williams said. “I feel like if we really do that, we’ll be fine the whole game.”

After the loss, the Rams went on to win six-straight games, including beating the Bonnies 67-64 at the Stuart C. Siegel Center on Feb. 12.

“It was definitely a big learning point for us,” Hyland said. “We knew that we couldn’t mess around no more, we can’t let up in the first half or second half, we just have to keep going full throttle.”

St. Bonaventure’s defense is anchored by forward Osun Osunniyi, the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year. Osunniyi leads the conference in blocked shots a game with 2.8. 

Coach Mike Rhoades called Osunniyi’s defensive play “elite.”

“He’s dominant at times in blocking shots, getting in the way and defending the rim,” Rhoades said. “Not many people in college basketball do it like him, it’s special.”

Rhoades said rebounding is one of the main focuses for the Rams heading into the title game. 

The Rams out-rebounded the Bonnies in both meetings, a combined 85-71 over the two game stretch.

“We got to rebound,” Rhoades said. “We got to find ways to get extra shots, we got to find ways to limit them.”

The Rams will play St. Bonaventure in the A-10 championship game on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Dayton’s UD Arena. The game will be televised on CBS.

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