Men’s basketball: Bonnies top Niagara in Big 4 Classic

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By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio

BUFFALO — The blowout that was anticipated when the St. Bonaventure Bonnies men’s basketball team met the three-win Niagara Purple Eagles on Saturday afternoon at KeyBank Center never came to fruition, but it didn’t have to.

Niagara stayed within reach, trailing by just three points at halftime and refusing to allow the deficit get larger than 15 points, but the Bonnies coasted to a 79-69 win in the Big 4 Classic matchup to improve to 7-3.

Per usual, St. Bonaventure point guard Jaylen Adams put on a show, scoring 11 consecutive points in less than two minutes to extend a five-point lead to 13 with 11:19 remaining. It was a familiar display of NBA-range three-pointers and spectacular layups for the Baltimore native, who totaled 23 points on the day, his seventh game this season with at least 20 points.

Matt Mobley came off the bench for the first time this season due to disciplinary reasons, and was subpar by his standards, shooting just 5-of-16. Sophomore guard Nelson Kaputo made his first appearance of the year after a first-semester academic suspension, seeing 10 minutes of action and making a three-pointer along with a rebound and assist.

“He did okay, he hit a shot,” Schmidt said of Kaputo’s debut. “I think he had the first-game jitters a little bit, sitting out for nine games and coming in, it’s hard. But he gives Jay and Matt a little bit of a rest and that’s important.”

As Kaputo got his feet wet and Mobley struggled, Adams had to control another game in the backcourt, and making five of eight attempts from three-point range certainly fit the bill.

“I thought Jay was the difference by the way he scored the ball and got us up by 15,” said Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt.

“I think it’s just a part of feeling the game out,” Adams said. “Early in the game, early in halves, they take stuff away and you kind of just have to adjust to the way they’re playing defense. I think that’s why those spurts happen- it’s all adjustments.”

Sophomore forward LaDarien Griffin started for Mobley and had a career-high nine rebounds (five offensive boards) to go with four points and an emphatic block on Niagara guard Chris Barton that could’ve been heard from the nosebleed seats.

Freshman Josh Ayeni was only able to play 12 minutes due to foul trouble and eventually fouled out with 7:31 remaining, so Griffin was called on to play 28 minutes, his most time logged in a Bona uniform.

“I thought LaDarien did a tremendous job coming in and giving us a lift,” Schmidt said. “To me, other than Jay, he was the player of the game, and give him credit.”

Other notable individual efforts included senior forward Denzel Gregg making all seven shots from the field, and two of his four attempts from the foul line, for a 16-point day. It marked his highest scoring output since the season opener against St. Francis. David Andoh chipped in eight points, while Amadi Ikpeze had a bucket and four boards. Every Bonnie who played was on the court for double-digit minutes.

Niagara had to rely heavily on guard Kahlil Dukes, who scored 21 points to make up for the fact that Bona held star guard Matt Scott to nine points on 3-of-11 shooting. The Purple Eagles shot 10-of-26 in the first half, 43.6 percent for the game.

SBU held the rebounding edge 35-31 and had five blocks and seven steals, but Schmidt wasn’t satisfied with the defensive effort.

“We played defense in spurts, just like we did on offense,” Schmidt said. “If we can play more consistently as a team on defense, those numbers would be better. But going into the game, if someone said they were gonna shoot 5-for-17 and we’re gonna hold Scott to nine points, we would take that. But I’ve said it over and over again, we’re still a work in progress.

“We’ve gotta get better, and we’ve gotta get better on both ends.”

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