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St. Bonaventure ousts George Mason from Atlantic 10 basketball tournament - The Washington Post

Otis Livingston II has his shot contested by Dominick Welch of St. Bonaventure. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

By Steven Goff

Steven Goff

Reporter covering soccer (D.C. United, MLS, U.S. national teams, World Cup), plus some college basketball.

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March 15 at 7:21 PM

NEW YORK — The George Mason Patriots entered this season with high expectations and, with most of the roster returning next fall, they’ll start the subsequent campaign with lofty goals.

But to take the next step in the Atlantic 10, to join the elite programs and perhaps advance to the tournament semifinals for the first time, the Patriots will need to learn and grow.

On Friday, they were ousted in the quarterfinals for the third consecutive year, a 68-57 setback to St. Bonaventure in a game that was never much in doubt.

The fifth-seeded Patriots — and in particular, junior guard Justin Kier — enjoyed some nice stretches in the second half, but the difference between the teams was clear to everyone at Barclays Center.

It’s unfair to deem the season a failure, for the program has been gradually building under Coach Dave Paulsen over four seasons and won its most conference games (11) since entering the A-10 in 2013-14. But in a way it was disappointing because the Patriots had returned their entire roster and began conference play with a 7-1 mark.

“Initially, those expectations [this season] put our guys on their heels because none of them had been used to those expectations,” Paulsen said. “That’s unfortunate, but possibly that is part of the learning progression, possibly that is part of the progress of the program.”

The Patriots (18-15) weren’t up to the task here, squeaking by lowly George Washington on Thursday and encountering a superior St. Bonaventure side.

[GW fires Maurice Joseph as head coach after three seasons]

The fourth-seeded Bonnies (17-15) never let the lead slip below seven after halftime in earning a semifinal date with No. 8 Rhode Island (17-14), which upset No. 1 Virginia Commonwealth, 75-70, all but assuring two NCAA tournament berths for the conference.

VCU (25-7) seems certain to receive an at-large bid, though it might start the tournament without all-conference guard Marcus Evans, who suffered a knee injury in the first half.

This figured to be the year the Patriots cracked the top four, but after long-term injuries to two starters and a rough patch in February, they were going to be hard-pressed to make a tournament breakthrough.

“We had some ups and downs,” Kier said, “but we had a lot of ups, and those are the things you remember.”

Kier provided most of the ups in Brooklyn. After posting 26 points, eight rebounds and five assists Thursday, he had 20 points against the Bonnies and, during one stretch, scored 14 straight points.

Freshman Jordan Miller added 13 points and eight rebounds (seven offensive), but senior Otis Livingston II ended a sterling career with another dud (six points on 2-of-9 shooting). He made 4 of 16 shots against GW.

Livingston is the only regular to graduate, leaving Kier, who won the league’s most improved player award, to lead the Patriots.

“He has a chance to be one of the best players in the league,” Paulsen said. “We don’t want to burden him with undue expectations, but also getting him to see what he is capable of when he is completely locked in like he has been the last three or four games.”

The Bonnies have a bright future, as well. Freshman guards Kyle Lofton and Dominick Welch scored 20 points apiece, combining to hit 10 of 18 three-pointers and add eight rebounds and six assists.

The Bonnies led by 10 at halftime, pushed it to 15 early in the second half and answered the Kier-led insurgence with key baskets.

“Every time you turned around, [Welch] hit a backbreaking three,” Paulsen said. “Most of them were challenged pretty well.”

The Bonnies have won eight of nine after easily beating the Patriots for the second time in a month. George Mason shot poorly from all distances: 35 percent overall, 29 percent on three-pointers and 50 percent from the free throw line.

Livingston’s first basket was a three-pointer that trimmed the deficit to 49-42. Later, he made another three-pointer to cut the margin to seven with 2:22 left. But after the Patriots committed a turnover, the Bonnies secured victory with free throws.

“We didn’t play well offensively but we fought and competed and dealt with [foul trouble] and scratched and clawed and got back in the game,” Paulsen said. “That’s kind of the way the season has been: a lot of injuries, a lot of adversity and every step of the way, this group of guys has been a lot of fun to coach.”

RHODE ISLAND 75, VCU 70: Jeff Dowtin, a sophomore guard from D.C.'s St. John’s High, scored 22 points, including a running three-pointer as the shot clock expired with about two minutes left, to help snap VCU’s winning streak at 12.

Evans was injured on a fast-break layup attempt with 6:42 left in the first half. He immediately grabbed his left knee — the latest setback after two Achilles’ tendon injuries in his career. VCU Coach Mike Rhoades said Evans suffered a deep bone bruise and would be evaluated again in Richmond.

Marcus Santos-Silva had 26 points and 22 rebounds (10 offensive) for VCU, which had not lost since Jan. 23 at Rhode Island.

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