Column: How the Coronavirus took over the Atlantic 10 tournament, and the world of sports, in a matter of hours

By Jeff Uveino

BROOKLYN, NY — When Mark Schmidt and his players took time for media availability on Monday, the Coronavirus’ impact on the Atlantic 10 tournament was an afterthought.

The Schmidt-led St. Bonaventure men’s basketball was set to leave for Barclays Center the next day, with its sole focus on finding a way to win the tournament as the No. 5 seed.

Just over 48 hours later, the conversation regarding the virus and its impact on sports completely changed when a chain reaction of cancellations and restrictions erupted across social media.

Around 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, it was announced that all NCAA tournament games would be played without fans in attendance.

As NCAA conferences around the country made the decision not to allow fans to attend their respective tournaments, the Atlantic 10 followed suit at 9:13. About 30 minutes after that, the NBA announced that it was suspending the remainder of its season.

However, the decision that hit closest to home for the Bona community came as No. 8 Massachusetts and No. 9 VCU were set to tip-off Thursday’s A-10 tournament action.

Moments before the game’s noon start, the league announced that its championship tournament would not be played.

As did every other conference in the nation.

In an unprecedented series of events, the world of sports seemingly shut down over the course of 24 hours.

And, as it did, a Barclays Center scene that otherwise would be filled with thousands of A-10 basketball fans from across the northeast turned into a ghost town.

As the league held a press conference shortly after announcing its decision, the heavy mood of the room was one of deflation and disappointment.

“The very precautionary decision-making to protect our student-athletes, all of our support staff, our coaches, our administrators, and the public and family members, is something that I think everybody across the country is doing right now,” said A-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade.

Later in the afternoon, the NCAA announced that it was canceling ‘March Madness,’ as well as the remainder of every winter and spring sport championship this season.

By the time media members left the arena on Thursday evening, the entire sports world had seemingly come to a stop.

The conversation in Brooklyn was no longer about the tournament. It was no longer just about college basketball.

A postseason, or entire upcoming season, was taken away from college athletes in a matter of hours. Not to mention the high school and professional athletic cancelations.

VCU coach Mike Rhodes best summed up the emotion of the day.

“There weren’t any dry eyes in our locker room,” Rhodes said. “When our seniors sat down and realized they wouldn’t be putting on a uniform again, that was tough.”

As the Coronavirus’ impact spreads, so will the emotion that enveloped the A-10 on Thursday.

However, Rhodes and UMass coach Matt McCall made light of the situation when asked about Thursday’s game.

I thought Coach Rhodes had a great idea,” McCall said. “He said, ‘Let’s me and you play one-on-one in our suits here and we’ll battle it out that way.”

“I’m for it,” Rhodes added. “That would be good TV.”

 

Atlantic 10 tournament canceled over Coronavirus fears

By Jeff Uveino

BROOKLYN, NY — The remainder of the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball tournament was canceled on Thursday minutes before the tournament’s first game of the day was scheduled to start at Barclays Center.

No. 8 Massachusetts and No. 9 VCU were set for a noon tip-off to start the day’s action, until it was announced at 11:59 a.m. that the tournament would not be played due to fears over the Coronavirus.

“It was a very difficult decision, and you can probably hear that in my voice,” A-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade said while calling in to the league press conference on Thursday. “The precautionary decision making done to protect our student athletes, family members and the public is something that I think everyone in the country is doing right now.”

The conference had announced on Wednesday night that the tournament would be played without fans in attendance. McGlade said that at that point, she knew that canceling the tournament was a possibility, but hoped that it would not be necessary.

“You always hate to pull people off the court, but the right decision was made, even in the last hour,” said Thorr Bjorn, athletic director at Rhode Island and the chair of the A-10 athletic directors. “This was a preventative decision, not a reactionary one.”

The news came as NCAA conferences around the nation announced that they would not hold their respective tournaments.

“Two minutes left in the warmup, you’re on the court and locked in, and then no game,” VCU coach Mike Rhodes said. “It’s surreal. The reality of it is, you can’t win every game, but your responsibility as a coach is to keep your players healthy and safe.”

Rhodes said that the decision was especially tough to swallow for his senior players.

“There weren’t any dry eyes in our locker room,” Rhodes said. “When our seniors sat down and realized they wouldn’t be putting on a uniform again, that was tough.”

McGlade, who had called in to from an NCAA Selection Committee meeting, said that she is uncertain whether the NCAA tournament will be the next event to be impacted.

“All of the leadership executives within the NCAA and our committee are very attentive and attuned to everything that’s going on, and looking at all of the impactful information that’s coming on as we are charged with taking care of our responsibilities.”

Atlantic 10 tournament preview: Bona enters as No. 5 seed; faces tough road back to final

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

BROOKLYN, NY — For the first time since 2017, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team will have to play on Thursday in the Atlantic 10 tournament.

After an 11-7 regular season in the A10, Bona is the No. 5 seed at the conference tournament, which will take place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, from March 11-15.

The Bonnies dropped their season finale to Saint Louis last Saturday, which erased their hopes of a top-four seed and a double-bye through the first two rounds of the tournament. A win in the game would have landed Bona at No. 4, meaning it would not have had to play until Friday.

“Two of the last four teams that have won (the tournament) have played on Thursday,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said. “It’s not like no one has done it. You’ve just got to be playing well and get some momentum. It’s ‘game seven’ for the next four games, and hopefully we can win those game sevens.”

A year ago, Bona fell just short of winning the tournament, after making a run to the championship game as the No. 4 seed and letting a late-game lead slip away to Saint Louis in the championship game.

Bona returns three starters from that team, including now-sophomore Dominick Welch, who averaged 12 points and seven rebounds per game in three A10 tournament games a year ago. Welch scored 20 points in Bona’s quarterfinal win over George Mason.

“It gives me confidence knowing how well I played there,” Welch said. “We’ve let the new guys know that it wasn’t easy, and we’ll really have to prepare. Last year, we got off to a slow start because we weren’t used to the setting and the rims, so (we need to) make sure we get our shots up and are prepared.”

Schmidt said that the experience his team got playing deep into the tournament a year ago can only help it this time around.

“It certainly won’t be a negative,” Schmidt said. “They played well in pressure situations, and the more experience you get the better you’re going to be.”

Kyle Lofton and Osun Osunniyi, both sophomores, also started all three tournament games for the Bonnies a year ago. Lofton averaged over 16 points per game to earn him all-tournament team honors, while Osunniyi averaged seven points and eight rebounds per game.

This year, Bona’s path back to the championship game is anything but easy.

SBU will play either No. 12 George Mason or No. 13 St. Joseph’s at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, with No. 4 Saint Louis awaiting the winner on Friday.

“It’s one game, and we can’t worry about what’s happening on Friday, Saturday or Sunday,” Schmidt said. “If you lose you go home, so our mindset is to prepare the best we can for St. Joe’s or George Mason.”

Then, if the Bonnies can beat the same SLU team that thrashed them, 72-49, on Saturday, they’ll set up a date with No. 1 Dayton on Saturday afternoon.

For players that weren’t around for last year’s tournament run, such as Jaren English, the opportunity to win a championship is exciting.

“We have the opportunity to win a championship, which would band us together as a team here forever,” English said. “Everybody talks about the 2012 team with (Andrew) Nicholson, and it would be a great honor to be talked about as we go on in our careers and come back to Bonaventure.”

The sophomore guard has college postseason experience, as he helped lead Ranger Community College to the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I championship game a year ago.

English has since had a breakout year for the Bonnies, averaging nearly 12 points per game this season.

“We want to get down there and show people that they can’t cross us off of their list,” English said. “We’ve got high hopes and we believe that we can win, and that’s all you really need.”

Bona’s game on Thursday will be broadcasted on NBC Sports Network, as will its quarterfinal game if the Bonnies advance to Friday.

“Preparation is important, but you’ve got 24 hours after they play,” Schmidt said. “So, the preparation isn’t going to be as important as just going out and playing, and doing what you do best.”

Below is the complete tournament bracket.
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Levesque, Johnson lead women’s lacrosse to best start in seven years

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — The past three weeks have happened quickly for the St. Bonaventure women’s lacrosse team.

After announcing the hiring of a new head coach a week before its 2020 regular season opener, the team now has more wins than it had in the previous two seasons combined.

After Jason Levesque was hired on Feb. 7, a three-game win streak to open the season has given the Bonnies their best start since 2013.

“I think the biggest thing with coming in late like that was saying, hey, let’s have some fun,” Levesque said. “I think the girls have bought into a new mindset and have been hungry to win.”

SBU started the year with a 16-8 win at Hartford before edging Central Connecticut State, 10-9, on the road. The Bonnies then rolled by Kent State, 15-7, in their home opener.

“You have to learn how to win, just like you learn how to lose,” Levesque said. “If you get complacent, you become content with losing. We’ve tried to push them more to not be okay with that and help them understand that winning is tough, but at the same time we can have some fun.”

Senior midfielder Destinee Johnson has netted 12 goals and handed out six assists over the course of the young season. She scored 18 goals a year ago.

“The girls around me instill confidence in me,” Johnson said. “The seven of us playing as one on the attack is what has made our offensive so much more successful this year. Having that backup gives you that much more strength to go score a goal, or assist the next girl.”

The Bonnies have scored nearly 14 goals per game this year, and are tied for 13th-best in the nation with eight goals allowed per game.

Ashley Easterday has scored six goals for the Bonnies, while Nora Anderson has scored five goals.

“This has been everything we’ve worked for over the past four years,” Johnson said. “Having it come together is absolutely amazing.”

Levesque said that despite Bona’s offensive success, he thinks that his team could be scoring even more than it has.

“We want to keep the ball moving and be selfless,” Levesque said. “It doesn’t matter who scores the goals as long as St. Bonaventure scores them. If we share the ball and remain selfless, good things will happen.”

The Bonnies will play five more non-conference games before beginning Atlantic 10 play in late March.

“(A10) play will really show us where we’re at,” Levesque said. “The top end of our conference is very, very good. It will prove to be a strong challenge, and we’ll see where we need to be better.”

SBU will travel to the Carolinas next week, playing Wofford on Tuesday and Gardner Webb on Thursday.

Bona will not play at home again until March 14, when it takes on Butler.

“After last week’s game, I told the ladies that it’s only going to get harder from here,” Levesque said. “We need to make sure that we’re focusing game-by-game and preparing for that A10 schedule.”

Duquesne gets revenge, beats Bonnies in overtime

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — Two and a half weeks ago, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team outlasted Duquesne on the road.

On Wednesday night at the Reilly Center, the Dukes returned the favor.

Duquesne survived a late-game Bona comeback before forcing overtime and beating the Bonnies, 81-77.

Sincere Carry found himself at the free throw line in multiple game-changing scenarios for the Dukes, including when he hit two free throws to force overtime.

Then, with six seconds left in the extra stanza and Duquesne leading by two, the sophomore guard hit two more free throws to end Bona’s hopes of last-minute magic.

Carry finished with 18 points, including four in the overtime period.

“I thought Duquesne got off to a better start and had more energy than us in the first half, but our guys really responded coming out of halftime,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said. “We took the lead and then it was back and forth, but we had our opportunities.”

Michael Hughes, who was matched up with Bona center Osun Osunniyi for much of the game, also had 18 points.

“I thought Hughes hurt us at the end of the game,” Schmidt said. “He had two or three jump hooks. He didn’t have his best game, but he’s a great player.”

Hughes had four points in the final two minutes of regulation, as well as a big bucket with less than two minutes left in overtime.

“(Hughes) knows how to play in the post and he has good moves,” Osunniyi said. “I gave him too much position inside and he got some easy buckets later in the game, which hurt us a lot.”

Osunniyi had 23 points and 13 rebounds of his own, shooting 10-for-15 from the field.

“They out-toughed us in the first half, and we tried to play harder in the second half,” Osunniyi said. “When you play a good team like that, you can’t have mental lapses.”

Neither team helped itself offensively, as the Bonnies and Dukes combined to shoot 27 percent from 3-point range and 60 percent from the free throw line. Each team forced 16 turnovers.

“They made one more play than we did,” Schmidt said. “We had a great game against them (on the road) and we had another great one against them tonight, but we came out on the short end this time.”

Jaren English had 15 points for the Bonnies, while Kyle Lofton scored 14 points.

English was forced into Lofton’s usual point guard position late in regulation when Lofton went down with an apparent ankle injury, but the sophomore was able to come back into the game after a minimal stint on the bench.

Dominick Welch picked up his sixth double-double of the season, as he scored 10 points to go along with 14 rebounds.

Lamar Norman Jr. put up 14 points for the Dukes, while Tavian Dunn-Martin, who lit up Bona in the teams’ first matchup, finished with nine points.

“You have to pick your poison with them,” Schmidt said. “Do you double team Hughes and then give up open three’s, or guard him straight up?”

The win was monumental for Duquesne’s Atlantic 10 tournament seeding hopes, as the Dukes moved to 9-6 in the league and 19-8 overall, good enough for a share of fifth place.

SBU fell to 10-5 in the A10 and 18-10 overall. The Bonnies now sit in fourth place in the A10, after Richmond defeated George Washington on Wednesday night to move to 11-3.

Up next for Bona is a Saturday trip to La Salle, where tip off is scheduled for 2 p.m.

“We have competitive guys in our locker room and they’re upset that we lost,” Schmidt said. “We’ll come back in 24 hours and get ready for La Salle. That’s always been the mentality.”

Bonnies survive Richmond comeback, beat the Spiders for share of third place

photo by Erin Lanahan/The Intrepid

By Hayden Robinson

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — After a controversial call by referees, clutch free throws from St. Bonaventure’s Jaren English and Dominic Welch helped the Bonnies seal a win over Richmond on Saturday. 

The SBU men’s basketball team team pulled out a narrow victory over the Spiders at the Reilly Center, 75-71. 

With 35 seconds left in the game, Bona sophomore Bobby Planutis committed  a “flagrant one” foul. This would lead to a free throw made, followed by a clutch 3-pointer by Richmond’s Blake Francis, cutting Bonaventure’s previously sizable lead down to three points. 

Richmond would foul to stop the clock, but the Bonnies’ free throw shooting would prove to be the x-factor.

English and Welch were a combined 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the final 25 seconds of the game.

English Finished with 17 points, while Welch put up a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds. 

During this time of the year, you want to start putting everything together,” Bona forward Osun Osunniyi said. “The way we handled the big shots they hit, hitting our free throws when we had to, was really big.” 

 Bonaventure started the game on a 14-4 run over the first five minutes, making it seem as if it would be a game in Bonaventure’s hands. However, Richmond continued fight, keeping it within 10 points for much of the game 

A big corner three by Dominic Welch would put the Bonnies up by 13 points with nine minutes left in the game, which was  Bonaventure’s biggest lead of the night. 

Welch attributed his hot shooting tonight to his calm demeanor on the court.  

Just have to play my game and go with the flow,” Welch said. “Just playing with confidence.” 

Bona head coach Mark Schmidt spoke briefly on the difficulty playing against a successful in-conference team like Richmond. 

They hit some big shots at the end and they’re a team that you have to pick your poison,” Schmidt said. “They’re hard to defend and they played exceptionally well.” 

St. Bonaventure’s next game will be at home this Wednesday against Duquesne, who boasts an 8-6 record in cofference.   

All games at this point in the season are important for the Bonnies, as they are third in the A-10 conference at 10-4, and only two games behind Rhode Island for the second spot. 

Lofton’s big shot leads Bonnies to road win over Duquesne

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

MOON TOWNSHIP, PA — When Sincere Carry tied the game, all of the momentum was in Duquesne’s favor.

The Dukes had completed a 9-0 run after trailing for the entire second half, and prompted a hearty roar from a rowdy UPMC Events Center crowd.

However, St. Bonaventure guard Kyle Lofton didn’t seem to mind.

With 1:14 left in the game, Lofton nailed a three-pointer to put the Bonnies men’s basketball team up for good on its way to an 83-80 win over the Dukes on Saturday afternoon.

“I knew I was going to be the one to shoot it,” Lofton said. “In that type of moment, the coaches trust me. They depended on me, so I was confident and I stuck it.”

The shot was just one of many big-time offensive plays in the game, as the teams traded blows the whole way in front of a crowd that featured a sea of both Bona’s brown and white, and the blue and red of the Dukes.

Lofton hit five of his six shot attempts from beyond the arc. He finished with 21 points and seven assists.

“The thing I was most proud of was that whenever they made a play, we answered,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said. “To be able to do that against a really good team shows that we’re growing.”

Seven players reached double-digit scoring in the game, and the teams combined to shoot 24-for-54 from beyond the arc (44 percent).

 Jaren English scored 15 points for the Bonnies, the sixth time this season that he has reached that number.

Dom Welch added 14 points and nine rebounds, while Osun Osunniyi racked up 12 points and nine rebounds.

“I think (the win) shows our character and toughness, and what we can be in the future,” Lofton said. “We have guys that can score the ball, and it was good to have multiple guys in double figures.”

Duquesne’s three-point shooting kept it in the game the entire way, as the Dukes hit on 14-of-34 triples.

Tavian Dunn-Martin shot 7-for-15 on his own from beyond the arc on his way to a game-high 25 points.

After being held scoreless in the first half, Carry came alive in the second and finished with 17 points. Baylee Steele added 15 points for the Dukes.

“The game plan was to try to take away their inside game,” Schmidt said. “Even though they played really well, we still made the plays that we needed to make. Everybody did what they needed to do.”

With Osunniyi in foul trouble for much of the first half, Amadi Ikpeze played 15 minutes off the bench and put up four points to go with six rebounds. Osunniyi played just over 24 minutes.

The win boosted SBU to 16-8 overall, while Duquesne fell to 17-6 overall.

More importantly, it moved the Bonnies to 8-3 in Atlantic 10 play, while the Dukes fell to 7-4.

The teams will meet again at the Reilly Center on Feb. 26 in a game that could potentially have a large impact on seeding for the A-10 tournament in March.

However, Schmidt said that he isn’t looking that far ahead.

“You learn how to win by winning,” Schmidt said. “We can’t get satisfied and we can’t get comfortable.”

The Bonnies will travel to St. Joseph’s on Tuesday to play the Hawks, who are 0-9 in the A10.

Nicholson returns to the RC; talks pro career and life overseas

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — The last time Andrew Nicholson was in the Reilly Center, a banner with his last name and former jersey number was unveiled from the rafters of the building.

On Wednesday night, Nicholson returned to a greeting that was similar to the one he received when his number 44 was retired by the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball program in 2016.

The RC gave a standing ovation to welcome back Nicholson, SBU’s second all-time leading scorer and former first-round NBA draft pick.

Before the Bonnies took on George Washington, Nicholson received his SBU all-time team plaque.

During the game, he talked about what it was like to be back at his alma mater, and the journey that his professional basketball career has taken him on.

“I had dinner with (Bonnies head coach) Mark Schmidt yesterday and saw a bunch of my old professors and friends,” Nicholson said. “Just being able to be on the floor and work out, and to remember when I was here, was amazing.”

Nicholson graduated from Bona’s in 2012 after scoring 2103 career points. The 6-9 power forward averaged 20.8 points and 7.3 rebounds his junior year, then 18.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game his senior season.

He led the Bonnies to the 2012 Atlantic 10 championship and an NCAA tournament berth, and was named 2012 A-10 player of the year.

Nicholson was selected 19th overall by the Orlando Magic in the 2012 NBA draft. After playing five seasons in the association, he averaged six points per game in just over 14 minutes per game.

“The politics of the NBA are nothing that I could really escape from,” Nicholson said. “It happens to the best of us. But I got what I wanted out of it.”

After the NBA, Nicholson’s career took him to China, where he has quickly become a star in the Chinese Basketball Association.

“It’s definitely different than being (in North America),” Nicholson said. “It was hard to adjust my first year, but now that I’ve picked up on the language and the culture a little bit, it has made it easier for me.”

Playing for the Guangzhou Long-Lions, Nicholson averaged 27.6 points and 10.9 rebounds in 26 games this season before the league postponed the remainder of its season due to the ongoing coronavirus epidemic.

He averaged the same number of points per game over the 2018-19 season playing for the Fujian Sturgeons, and 24.3 points per game for the Guangdong Southern Tigers the year before.

Nicholson said that being back around SBU has been a nice change of pace, compared to life in professional basketball.

“With my lifestyle, I’m always staying in hotels and bouncing around,” he said. “Coming back to somewhere where I was for so long, it’s like coming back home.”

Now at age 30, Nicholson is appreciative that he can continue to play professionally. He said that he has learned to play the CBA style of basketball, and wants to play for as long as he can.

“Wherever the ball takes me, I’m always going to go and try to be the best version of myself.”