The Atlantic 10 hasn’t had the same team emerge with first prize in consecutive years at its tournament since the 2010 Temple Owls pulled off a three-peat. Saint Louis made sure to keep that fact intact.
The Billikens held defending champ Davidson to 17.2-percent shooting in the second half of Saturday’s semifinal at Barclays Center. They also got 24 points from Javon Bess and 19 from Tramaine Isabell Jr., and they ended up trouncing the Wildcats, 67-44.
“The second half, we come out really just locked in,” coach Travis Ford said. “Just made a lot of defensive plays that led to good offense.”
So none of the top three seeds — No. 1 VCU, No. 2 Davidson or No. 3 Dayton — made the title round. It will be fourth-seeded St. Bonaventure versus sixth-seeded Saint Louis on Sunday at 1.
“This is an incredibly challenging conference,” said 30th-year Davidson coach Bob McKillop, who grew up in South Ozone Park, played for Chaminade and Hofstra and coached at Holy Trinity and Long Island Lutheran.
The Bonnies (18-15) haven’t won the championship since 2012. The Billikens (22-12) haven’t won it since 2013. They lost at St. Bonaventure, 66-57, on March 9. This will the Bonnies’ third game in three days, but it will be the Billikens’ fourth game in four days. Any fatigue?
“We feel good,” Bess said. “We’re playing for something. We’re playing for a championship. So all that other stuff goes out the window.”
The game was tied 29-29 at the break after Saint Louis closed on a 9-2 run.
Then Isabell, who’s averaging 20 points in the three tournament games, hit two threes and two layups to score the Billikens’ first 10 points of the second half.
The grad-transfer guard powered a 20-4 run, good for a 49-33 advantage.
The lead was still 16 after Bess buried one of his trio of threes, this one from the left corner. Jon Axel Gudmundsson, the A-10 Player of the Year, countered with a three.
But Bess, a senior guard who went 10-for-14 from the floor, nailed two jumpers to make it 56-39 with 5:20 left.
“I definitely felt I was in rhythm,” Bess said.
And the Wildcats were not. They shot 5-for-29, including 2-for-18 on threes, after the intermission and finished at 25.9 percent for the game. Their top guards mostly struggled. Kellan Grady went 3-for-17. Luke Frampton went 3-for-11. And Gudmundsson went 4-for-10 on his way to a team-high 15 points.
“They were outstanding in the way they broke our rhythm offensively with their changing defenses,” McKillop said.
So the Billikens could go to bed and dream about having to win just one more time to go to the NCAAs. And Davidson (24-9) could hope for the consolation prize.
“You finish second in a great conference like the Atlantic 10,” McKillop said. “You win 24 games. Three of the games that you lost were without arguably your best player [Grady]. So I think we should have the opportunity to compete in the NIT.”