Three years ago, fans at UD Arena helped propel St. Bonaventure to a 65-58 victory against UCLA in the First Four. Coach Mark Schmidt said it felt like a home game for his team.
At 1 p.m. Sunday, top-seeded St. Bonaventure (15-4) will hope for more of the same support from any Dayton Flyers fans in attendance at UD Arena as it plays No. 2 Virginia Commonwealth (19-6) in the Atlantic 10 Conference championship game. The game will be televised on CBS.
It will be the biggest crowd either team has seen this season. With Ohio allowing indoor arenas to be filled to 25 percent capacity, there could be as many as 3,351 fans at the championship game. Only family members or close friends of coaches and players were allowed to attend games during the first four rounds of the tournament in Richmond, Va.
“We’re just really happy to play in such a great arena,” Schmidt said Wednesday. “It’s been difficult all year playing in front of nobody or a few guys, and at least we’ll have some fans there and it’s going to be a little bit better environment. We’re excited to play in the tournament, and hopefully the Dayton fans support us like they did against UCLA.”
VCU coach Mike Rhoades also hopes Dayton fans support his team, though that’s less likely because VCU beat Dayton three times this season and ended its NCAA tournament dreams with a 73-68 victory in the quarterfinals on March 5.
This will be VCU’s first postseason game at UD Arena since it beat Southern California 59-46 in the First Four in 2011, starting a run to the Final Four. Rhoades was an associate head coach on Shaka Smart’s staff that season.
“Dayton is one of the most passionate college basketball cities in the country,” Rhoades said. “Ten years ago we went to the First Four, and there were so many Dayton fans there. It was sold out, I think. Like here at VCU, they have just a passion for basketball and their team and good college basketball games. I think they really appreciate that, so I hope they cheer for the black and gold, but I know they’ll be rooting no matter what for the A-10 and all its members.”
VCU has a 15-6 record in the A-10 tournament in eight appearances. It reached the championship game its first five seasons in the conference but won only once, beating Dayton 71-65 in 2015.
St. Bonaventure will play in the championship game for the fifth time and the second time in a row. It lost 55-53 to Saint Louis in 2019. It won its only championship in 2012, beating Xavier 67-56.
Both teams have likely already wrapped up NCAA tournament berths, though Sunday’s result could affect their seeding. In Joe Lunardi’s lastest bracket, he predicted VCU would get a No. 11 seed and St. Bonaventure would get a No. 9 seed.
VCU and St. Bonaventure split two games in the regular season. The Bonnies won 70-54 on Jan. 20 in Olean, overcoming a 40-25 halftime deficit. VCU won 67-64 on Feb. 12 in Richmond.
“You can’t turn the ball over against them,” Schmidt said. “Once you turn it over against them, now they’re all on the break and they’ve got really, long athletic guys. It’s hard to guard them in an open court when they have numbers.”
Each team has a strong defense. St. Bonaventure leads the A-10 in field-goal percentage defense (38.8), and VCU ranks second (40.5).
“We’ve got to find ways to get extra shots,” Rhoades said. “We’ve got to find ways to limit them, but we’ve got to rebound. I thought that really helped us when we play them here.”
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