Dayton 56, No. 16 St. Bonaventure 53

St. Bonaventure coach Jim Crowley rattled off a list of

impressive credentials racked up by his team and stopped on the

biggest one of them all: 29 wins, 3 losses.

”Absurd is the only word I can come up with,” to describe the

record, he said.

It’s the same way he would describe it if the Bonnies were left

out of the NCAA tournament. With a chance to take the guesswork out

of a tourney bid, the Bonnies didn’t have enough to complete a

fantastic comeback.

Justine Raterman scored 13 points and Dayton rebounded after

squandering a 22-point lead to beat No. 16 St. Bonaventure 56-53 on

Monday to win the A-10 tournament championship and clinch a bid to

the NCAA tournament.

The Bonnies (29-3) had their 18-game winning streak snapped and

must wait for an at-large bid for the program’s first spot in the

NCAA tournament.

”Hopefully we’ve done enough to get in, but we eliminated the

guarantee of that,” Crowley said.

St. Bonaventure stormed back from the whopping first-half hole

to lead 51-50. Patrice Lalor got it right back for Dayton with a

pair of free throws and Andrea Hoover’s driving layup with 25

seconds left made it 54-51.

Jessica Jenkins’ 3 at the buzzer was off the mark for the

Bonnies, and Dayton could exhale. The Bonnies shot 33 percent from

the floor.

”It was a just a day where the ball didn’t drop like it

normally does,” Crowley said.

The Flyers (23-6) dominated early and didn’t trail until the

final minutes. The Flyers, playing in their second straight A-10

title game, earned at-large berths to the NCAA tournament each of

the last two seasons. They don’t need one this year.

Led by a senior class that never got rattled even as the lead

evaporated, Dayton found a way to gut out a win against one of the

hottest teams in hoops. Long after the title was secured, the

Flyers took turns posing with their families and the championship

trophy – a first for coach Jim Jabir in nine seasons at Dayton.

”This is huge,” Raterman said. ”Ever since I got here, it’s

been on our list of goals as a program. We’ve been taking steps

every single year for something like this. To finally reach that,

it’s not even real yet.”

Believe it, Dayton.

Doris Ortega had 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Bonnies, who

missed nine of 13 3-point attempts and squashed their chance at

relaxing during the selection show. Even with the loss, the

Bonnies, and possibly Temple, should join Dayton in the field.

After their incredible start, the Flyers cooled considerably,

and a mostly pro-St. Bonaventure crowd on Saint Joseph’s campus

went wild with each big bucket. Jenkins’ 3 with 4:43 left cut

Dayton’s lead to 45-40 and Megan Van Tatenhove hit a jumper to make

it a one-point game.

Alaina Walker completed the grueling comeback with two free

throws with 2:16 remaining that gave the Bonnies their first lead

of the game, 51-50.

Lalor, who scored 11 points, sank two free throws and the Flyers

regained the lead. Hoover sealed it with the layup and Dayton was

on its way toward the title.

The Flyers came out playing like the nationally ranked team with

a bid all but wrapped up. Dayton huddled on the court after pregame

introductions, shared a few laughs and high-fives, then started

firing. Hoover opened with a 3-pointer and Raterman hit a 3 to make

it 9-2. Elle Queen stole an in-bounds pass, one of St.

Bonaventure’s 12 first-half turnovers, that led to a layup by

Raterman and it was 20-5 – the Flyers would lead by 22.

Dayton started 11 of 22 and 4 of 8 from 3-point range, while the

Bonnies missed 14 of 17 and all five 3s.

The Bonnies regrouped and closed the half on a 12-2 run that

pulled them to 27-17 at halftime.

Still, it was a stunning 20 minutes for a team that hadn’t

trailed for a single second in either of their first two tournament

games.

”We just started out tight,” Tatenhove said. ”Big game

situation. Being on TV as well. We just let it affect us. When we

finally get settled in, we played our game. By that time, it was

too late.”

The Flyers went scoreless the final 7:25 of the first half and

didn’t score again until Hoover’s jumper 3 minutes into the second

half. Dayton’s 27-5 lead was sliced to 27-21 over that span.

As for that pregame ritual, Raterman laughed and said she

couldn’t reveal what was said in the huddle. It’s a tradition at

Dayton – and it’s one the Flyers will get to perform for at least

one more game in March.