Xavier fails in bid to win 1st A10 title since '06
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP)
Coming into the Atlantic 10 title game, coach Chris Mack and everyone on Xavier knew the key to success was keeping Andrew Nicholson of St. Bonaventure out of the middle and away from his sweet spots on the floor.
The Musketeers failed miserably against the conference player of the year.
Nicholson had 26 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocked shots, and St. Bonaventure won its first Atlantic 10 title by holding off Xavier 67-56 on Sunday.
In a 14-point win over the Bonnies in January, Xavier limited Nicholson to 20 points and eight rebounds. This time, he dominated on both ends.
''We had a good plan that we were able to execute in game one and really crowded him and made it difficult,'' Mack said. ''He did a better job, he out-executed our plan. He's unselfish. He gives it to you any way you want it.''
Not only did Nicholson hurt the Musketeers (21-12), they hurt themselves, falling behind by 16 points early and shooting 34 percent from the field.
''Everybody has off shooting nights,'' Xavier senior center Kenny Frease said. ''I don't know if it was anything they were particularly doing. A lot of shots that we were taking, we usually make.''
Da'Quan Cook and Charlon Kloof added nine points apiece for the fourth-seeded Bonnies (20-11), who will be returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2000.
This is a rebirth for St. Bonaventure, a program that was embarrassed in 2003 for using an illegal player and then allowing its players to boycott the final two regular-season games after the conference suspended the player.
As the clock wound down, players hugged on the court and coach Mark Schmidt walked the bench and high-fived players.
''This is a great moment for the program and for the school,'' said Schmidt, who has turned things around in five seasons. ''From where we have come it's been a long, hard battle. A lot of times, you work and you work and you work and you still don't have success. But someone is looking over us, and I told the guys in the locker room, we worked and worked and worked and got lucky. We had success.''
Nicholson, the 250-pound power forward from Canada, was clearly the difference in this one. The senior shot 7 of 13 from the field, hit all 10 of his free throws and single-handedly prevented Xavier from getting to the basket for most of the game.
Not only did Nicholson dominate inside, he showed a soft touch, hitting two 3-pointers in an early 22-5 run that gave the Bonnies a 16-point lead.
''He is an NBA player. Man, is he good,'' Mack said. ''He's extremely long, he's skilled, he's unselfish - a poor man's Tim Duncan. By far the best player in our league and an NBA team needs to take him in the first round.''
St. Bonaventure built the margin to 41-24 in the opening minutes of the second half, but Xavier, which has been to the last six NCAA tournaments and could make it seven with an at-large bid, made a run.
The Musketeers outscored St. Bonaventure 21-9 over a 10-minute spurt to get within 45-41 on a three-point play by freshman Dezmine Wells with 10:03 to play.
Demitrius Conger got St. Bonaventure back on track with a spinning drive that turned into a three-point play.
After Wells scored in the lane, the Musketeers had a chance to cut their deficit to two points, but a 3-pointer by Dee Davis hit off the rim and Nicholson eventually made it 50-43 with two free throws with 8:23 to play.
Xavier never got closer than five the rest of the way as Nicholson added six points down the stretch and Kloof iced the game with four free throws.
The Musketeers struggled from the field, shooting 34 percent (20 of 59). They were 2 of 13 from long range and were outrebounded 42-29.