(Photo Credit: GoBonnies.com)
By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
PITTSBURGH — For a moment on Friday afternoon, it looked like the St. Bonaventure Bonnies were going to be able to overcome the many challenges Rhode Island presented them.
Two Matt Mobley free throws gave Bona a 35-34 lead with 17 minutes to play in the Atlantic 10 Tournament quarterfinal matchup. Ultimately, however, Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson were too much for the Bonnies to handle. The Rams (22-9) won 74-63 and Bonaventure (20-12) must wait for Sunday night to see if its season will continue in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT).
Iverson grabbed a game-high nine rebounds, while Martin scored 19 points and collected eight boards. The Rams worked inside-out, allowing E.C. Matthews to enjoy a 20-point day.
Coach Danny Hurley’s team was a matchup nightmare, and SBU didn’t have an answer for the big men.
“They were more physical than us,” said Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt. “We had a hard time scoring the ball. We tried to change things up (defensively), 1-3-1, 2-3, man-to-man, try to fool them. At times it worked, but they hurt us inside from an offensive standpoint and we didn’t have much resistance.
“One of our weaknesses is we have young guys inside and they took advantage of that. Their defense was really effective… when we had open looks we needed to knock those open looks down in that area as well.”
Rhody is being considered a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament. While it can still secure an automatic bid by winning the A-10 Tournament on Sunday, it helped its case for an at-large bid on Friday. Mobley was held without a made field goal, and while Bona had three double-digit point scorers (Jaylen Adams 21, Denzel Gregg and Idris Taqqee 12 each), that was tough to overcome.
“They’re good players,” Gregg said of Iverson and Martin. “We struggled with that all year, the bigger bigs, and we struggled tonight.”
After shooting 44 percent (11-of-25) in the first half, SBU shot just 34 percent (11-of-32) in the second. Bona made just four three-pointers in 16 attempts. While it made 15 of its 18 free throws, the Rams got double the chances and went 21-of-36.
The Bonnies came out of the halftime break on a 9-2 run to take the aforementioned lead, but they led for just 19 seconds before Matthews knocked down a three-point jump shot. Rhody went on a 10-2 run and never looked back.
“We got the run coming out of the half and that was what we wanted,” Schmidt said. “But they answered it and it was back-and-forth, and we just had such a hard time guarding them inside. They got too many easy baskets, and everything that we got, it was a struggle.”
Bona will find out if it earned a bid into the NIT on Sunday night. The NIT Selection Show follows the NCAA Tournament Selection Show.
A 20-win A-10 team figures to have a decent shot at being one of the 32 teams in the field, but three websites that run an NIT Bracketology do not currently list Bonaventure. The brown and white’s season may have ended at PPG Paints Arena.
“It’s March, so anything can happen,” Gregg said. “There’s a lot of basketball left to play for other people. We’ll just wait and see what happens.”
While Schmidt acknowledged that “as every coach says, it doesn’t matter what I say,” he stated his belief that the Bonnies are deserving.
“We came in fifth in the Atlantic 10, we’ve had some good wins, we get great crowds, and I think we’re deserving of that,” Schmidt said. “They are deserving of playing in the NIT and hopefully we get that chance.
“If not, that’s the way it goes.”