By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
PITTSBURGH — There was reason for concern after the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team’s performance last Saturday against UMass. After all, the Minutemen had a chance to ruin Bona’s Senior Day and send the game into overtime at the buzzer.
The Bonnies eased any anxiety early on Thursday afternoon, defeating the Minutemen 73-60 at PPG Paints Arena to advance to Friday’s quarterfinals, where they will face Rhode Island.
Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt has often remarked about the team’s need for complimentary players to score, outside of his “Big Three” of Jaylen Adams, Matt Mobley and Denzel Gregg. The brown and white delivered with four players in double figures- Mobley with 19, Adams with 17, David Andoh with 12 and Josh Ayeni with 10.
Once Andoh and Ayeni started knocking down clean mid-range looks from the elbows, UMass coach Derek Kellogg had to scrap any plans of using a box-and-one defense on Adams or a triangle-and-two on Adams and Mobley. Each Bonnie required attention because everyone was making their shots, unlike on Saturday. The only players who appeared in the game but did not score a point were LaDarien Griffin and Amadi Ikpeze, who only played a combined five minutes.
“I think we’re a little more aggressive early,” Adams said. “We saw the triangle-and-two in the past and it kind of slowed us down. But when you play a team three times you kind of know what they’re gonna do. We expected it, we worked on it all week and we came out ready to go.”
“I thought (Adams and Mobley) really controlled the game, played well, shot the ball well, distributed the ball well,” Schmidt said. “When we get that third and fourth guy scoring the basketball, good things can happen. I thought David coming in shooting the ball well and Josh, it’s two more guys that they have to guard. ”
Bona was on cruise control in the second half, allowing UMass to score 34 points on 43 percent shooting, but the first half’s outburst was enough to weather any Minutemen comeback attempt. The final 10 minutes operated almost like a practice as SBU ran through its sets, switched up its man and zone defensive looks and rolled to a comfortable victory that was closer than the final score suggests.
One time frame when the Bonnies had momentum offensively was when Nelson Kaputo joined Adams and Mobley on the court. It was a very small lineup, but after Kaputo entered with 6:21 remaining in the first half, he made a three and two assists to contribute to SBU’s 19-8 run going into the locker room.
“Nelly gives us another ballhandler,” Adams said. “He’s able to stick shots… he played well and he takes some of the pressure to handle the ball off of us.”
With skilled players at each position, the Rams pose a more difficult matchup. As the No. 4 seed, Rhode Island will wear the white home uniforms and be favored among the oddsmakers in Las Vegas. URI also has the pressure of being on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Most projected brackets do not currently have coach Dan Hurley’s team in the field of 68, so it will be interesting to see how the Rams come out.
Will already playing a game in PPG Paints Arena benefit the Bonnies, or will an extra day of rest give Rhody an advantage? It’ll be hard to tell until they take the court, but the defense Bona is playing right now has pleased Schmidt.
“We’re playing much better. We’re more committed, I think our zone is helping us,” Schmidt said. “We rebounded the ball well today, we forced 18 turnovers and we had 19 points off of turnovers. So our defense was really a catalyst today and it has been for a few games, and it needs to be if we’re gonna beat a team as good as Rhode Island tomorrow.”
Adams, who scored 10 of his 17 points in the second half and made nine of his 10 free throw attempts (the team was 22-of-25 as a whole), believes the Bonnies know what it’ll take to take down the Rams.
“Rhode Island is really physical,” Adams said. “So I think we’ve gotta rebound, make shots and hit free throws and we should be fine.”