(Amadi Ikpeze and Denzel Gregg Photo Credit: GoBonnies.com)
By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
PITTSBURGH — Seven minutes into Wednesday night’s game at Duquesne, St. Bonaventure men’s basketball coach Mark Schmidt felt a change was in order in the post.
Enter seldom-used freshman Amadi Ikpeze, who was substituted in for fellow freshman Josh Ayeni after Ayeni picked up his first personal foul.
The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Ikpeze made Schmidt look like a genius, scoring eight points on 3-of-4 shooting from the field and two perfect free throws in 18 minutes of play. All numbers were career highs as Bonaventure won 71-64 in front of a paltry 975 fans at the Palumbo Center, at least half of them decked in brown and white.
Bona moved to 14-7 overall and 6-3 in the Atlantic 10, good for a three-way tie for fourth place in the league at its halfway point.
While Ikpeze gave a tremendous boost off the bench, Matt Mobley’s second half helped propel SBU to victory. After trailing 34-33 at the break, the junior scored six points in the team’s 8-0 run out of the locker room, which gave the team a nine-point lead, its biggest advantage up to that point.
In total, Mobley posted 16 of his 22 points in the final 20 minutes, making five of his eight field goal attempts.
A notoriously sharp jump shooter, the Worchester, Mass. native missed all four of his three-point attempts. He wasn’t alone; the Bonnies were just 1-of-13 from beyond the arc, with Jaylen Adams making the lone three-pointer nine minutes into the game.
Only sinking one from deep is a rare occurrence for a Schmidt-coached team. The last time it failed to make two or more threes was a January 2015 loss at Richmond, when it went 0-for-10.
Bonaventure had not won a game in which it made one or zero three-point shots since Dec. 3, 2013 against UMass-Lowell. The only one left from that team is senior Denzel Gregg.
Keeping the team afloat in the first half was Idris Taqqee, who scored 10 in the early stages and registered an incredible block similar to the Sportscenter Top 10 one that was made at his expense against Richmond.
“It was really important. We played defense in the first half, but Idris kept us in the game,” Schmidt said. “Nobody else was really doing anything, and Denzel got the two quick fouls, so I thought Idris really did a good job coming in scoring the ball.”
Realizing the brown and white weren’t going to capitalize on three-balls, Mobley said Schmidt instructed his group to attack the basket in the second half. While the Dukes enjoyed a fruitful 19 shots from the free throw stripe, Bona had just seven freebies, making five.
Bona picked up seven fouls in the first six minutes, giving Jim Ferry’s team 14 minutes of guaranteed foul shots whenever a whistle went its way. The second half was a different story, as the Bonnies were aggressive and went 15-of-18 from the line.
“You’ve gotta play the flow of the game,” Mobley said. “If your shots aren’t falling, you’ve gotta find different ways to get the ball in the basket. Coach told me to drive it more second half so I just tried to do that and we just drive and we got layups.”
It’s been a while since Mobley and backcourt mate Jaylen Adams were both really feeling it offensively; the last time they each had 20 or more points was Jan. 3 against Dayton. However, the tandem knows when one is down due to injury, foul trouble or ineffectiveness, the other must increase his production.
“We told each other, there can’t be a game where both of us are off, so one of us has gotta pick it up when the other one is down,” Mobley said. “We really wanna be up both games, both of us need to be playing well for us to win so we just make it a point, if one of us is down at least the other one’s gotta pick it up.”
Bonaventure has allowed 70 or fewer points in four of its last five games. While those defensive performances haven’t come against the highest of the conference’s competition, it’s as good of a time as any to start becoming a good defensive team.
“We just decided to be aggressive on defense, talk more,” Mobley said. “We’re communicating more, helping each other out. It showed in the first half that we are capable of playing good defense.”
While much of the praise went to Mobley for his 22-point outing, even the leading scorer had praise for Ikpeze, saying he was proud of the “young fella.”
Schmidt agreed, and while it seemed unusual to start David Andoh at the power forward spot and only play him four minutes, Ikpeze had the hot hand.
“If you play well you stay,” Schmidt explained. “Amadi gave us a lift, and he deserved to stay in the game.”
“It’s important. He’s physical, he’s coming along. He’s been doing well in the scout team, and I tell the guys all the time, if you practice well you’re gonna get a shot. Other guys weren’t doing it, and he came in and physically got some rebounds, got some putbacks and that’s what we need.”
The Amherst High School native attributed his success to the work he puts in daily.
“It was real big, because it shows the work that I’m putting it when it’s not gameday,” Ikpeze said. “Like every day in practice and just working with the coaches, just getting in the gym and the weight room. It’s good to know my shot, my confidence is up.”