Bonnies close out Duquesne in primetime

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — The St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team has played Duquesne more than any other Atlantic 10 opponent in its history.

The teams had met 124 times as of Friday, and the Bonnies’ historical rivalry with the Dukes has been renewed recently, with six of their last seven meetings being decided by six points or less.

Friday night’s contest at the Reilly Center appeared to be headed in the same direction before the Bonnies extended their lead late in the second half and beat the Dukes, 62-48.

SBU was led by junior guard Kyle Lofton, who scored a game-high 28 points on 8-for-16 shooting from the field and 12-for-14 from the free-throw line. Jaren Holmes scored 11 points and pulled down nine rebounds, while Alejandro Vazquez added 11 points off the bench for SBU.

“Shots weren’t falling, but you can’t always depend on shots to fall,” Lofton said. “You can depend on getting inside. You get in the paint; things happen. Being in attack mode early and throughout the whole game usually is a positive.”

The Bonnies took a 27-23 lead into the halftime locker room and didn’t relinquish it in the second half. SBU took the lead for good with 11:36 remaining in the first half, but led by single digits all but once until there was only one minute left in the game.

The Bonnies closed the game on an 11-2 run.

“I thought (Lofton) was tremendous, I thought Osun (Osunniyi) really got his legs back,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said. “We were really active. To hold that team to 48 points, it was a tremendous defensive game. Offensively was a struggle, but thank goodness we had (Lofton), and he hit some big shots.”

Osunniyi pulled down 12 rebounds to go with eight points for Bona. He was matched up with Duquesne forwards Michael Hughes and Marcus Weathers for most of the night, holding each to single-digit rebounds while blocking four shots in the game.

“It was a physical battle,” Schmidt said. “Going into the game, we knew that Hughes and Weathers were two physical inside guys. It was a concern when we played Rhode Island and they got us physically, and we challenged our guys. We got a second test and now we (needed) to pass that test, and I thought we did.”

Bona’s lone A-10 loss came to Rhode Island over two weeks ago.

Hughes finished with 14 points and three rebounds, while Weathers scored 12 points and pulled down nine rebounds. Ryan Murphy added eight points off of the bench for the Dukes.

The Bonnies only shot 36% from the field and were 2-for-16 from beyond the three-point line, but held Duquesne to just under 36% shooting itself. Bona benefitted from getting to the free-throw line, from which the team shot 20-for-27, while the Dukes were 3-for-9 from the line.

“Everybody struggled offensively other than (Lofton), so when (he) got it going a bit, you try to run stuff for him,” Schmidt said. “He had that mid-range jumper working. You go to your hot hand, and Kyle was that.”

Many of Vazquez’s minutes came at the expense of Dominick Welch, who sat for most of the first half after picking up his second foul less than five minutes in. Eddie Creal also played four minutes in Welch’s absence.

“It’s going to happen,” Schmidt said of foul trouble for Welch, who finished the game with 0 points and two rebounds. “Guys are going to get in foul trouble, that’s why you need your bench. Those guys aren’t going to play a ton, but when they get their name called, they’re going to be ready.”

This was SBU’s fourth-straight A-10 win, as the team improved to 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the league. Duquesne fell to 3-5 overall and 2-4 in conference play.

The Bonnies will return to the RC on Wednesday to battle Richmond in a rematch of two of the A-10’s most successful teams so far this season. The Spiders’ lone conference loss came at the hands of a Lofton game-winning shot when they hosted the Bonnies less than two weeks ago.

Bonnies fall short against Rhode Island

photo by Erin Lanahan/The Intrepid

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — Fatts Russell showed a sold out Reilly Center why he is one of the leading candidates for Atlantic 10 player of the year.

The junior guard scored 29 points, including 20 in the second half, for the Rhode Island men’s basketball team in an 81-75 win over St. Bonaventure on Saturday afternoon.

In an 8-for-14 shooting effort, Russell shot 5-for-9 from three-point range and 8-for-8 from the free throw line.

“When I’m hot, I feel like any shot I take is going to go in,” Russell said. “I tried to slow myself down, and pick and choose my spots.”

After trailing 40-35 at halftime, the Rams went on a 7-0 run to begin the second half. They took the lead for good with 14:33 remaining in the second half, when Russell buried a three pointer.

“I felt like once we had the lead in the second half, our guards are good enough to control the game,” Russell said.

Bona made a late push with four minutes remaining, when Justin Winston knocked down a three pointer to make the score 69-66.

That was as close as the Bonnies would get.

Winston was one of five Bonnies to reach double-digit scoring, as he finished with 12 points.

Kyle Lofton led the Bonnies in scoring with 15 points, while Dominick Welch and Jaren English each scored 14 points. Alejandro Vasquez racked up 11 points, including three big three-pointers in the first half.

“I thought the game was decided in the first four minutes of the second half,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said. “We came out lethargic and they came after us.”

Missed free throws plagued the Bonnies down the stretch. They shot 13-for-14 from the line in the first half, but just 7-for-12 in the second half.

“With an inexperienced team, you have to make foul shots,” Schmidt said. “Against a team like Rhode Island, every possession is critical, and I thought that at some points we broke down.”

Tyrese Martin scored 14 points for Rhode Island, including a big three to answer Winston’s and re-establish the Rams’ six-point lead.

Cyril Langevine had 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Jeff Dowtin scored 11 points.

This was St. Bonaventure’s third-straight loss, as it has gotten a taste of the Atlantic 10’s best over the past week. The Bonnies fell to VCU and Dayton previously.

SBU sits at 12-8 overall and 4-3 in the A-10. Rhode Island improved to 14-5 overall and 6-1 in the A-10.

“Rhode Island is one of the best teams in our league, and we were right there with a chance to win,” Schmidt said. “The effort was there, but the execution has to get a little bit better.”

The Bonnies will travel to Fordham on Wednesday before returning home on Feb. 1 to host George Mason.

 

Bonnies fall to Canisius in Buffalo

photo courtesy of Scott Eddy/gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

BUFFALO — Whatever the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team found offensively in Toronto last week, it didn’t bring back to New York.

The Bonnies (1-4) fell to Canisius (2-2) on Saturday, 61-57, in a sloppy game at KeyBank Center.

SBU shot 38 percent from the field, while Canisius shot 39 percent.

The Golden Griffins took the lead for good with three minutes remaining in the first half. Canisius stretched the lead to as many as 10 points before avoiding a late-game push from the Bonnies.

“Offensively, we were really bad,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said. “We got to the foul line, but just really couldn’t get anything going offensively. We weren’t pushing the ball and we didn’t get any easy baskets.”

SBU sophomore guard Kyle Lofton led all scorers with 18 points. Freshman forward Justin Winston added 14 points and five rebounds.

With 34 seconds remaining and the Bonnies trailing by two points, Lofton was called for a pivotal offensive foul while driving to the basket.

Malik Johnson, who drew the foul, hit both ensuing free throws for Canisius, which sunk the momentum of Bona’s comeback.

“They were running a rub action play so I knew (Lofton) was going to try to get down hill,” Johnson said. “I knew if I beat him to the spot and took (the foul) to my chest, it was most likely going to be a charge. I kind of read that play and baited him into it.”

Johnson finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and two steals for the Golden Griffins.

Canisius head coach Reggie Witherspoon said that Johnson’s “intense desire to win” is what drives the senior point guard.

“(Johnson) has been great for us and building the program,” Witherspoon said. “He’s a ‘we’ guy, not a ‘me’ guy. He’s really about the team, whether he scores or doesn’t score. I think that’s what you ultimately hope to have from your point guard.”

Freshman forward Jacco Fritz had a double-double for Canisius, racking up 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Canisius out-played SBU at the rim, out-rebounding the Bonnies 40-23 total, and 16-8 on offensive rebounds.

Bona’s defense forced 21 turnovers and scored 22 points off of turnovers. However, Canisius led in second-chance points, 16-7, a statistic that Schmidt said was crucial.

“They took it to us physically,” Schmidt said. “To me, that was the difference. Every time we got a stop, it seemed like they got an offensive rebound and put it back.”

Schmidt said that when relying on new players to score points, growing pains should be expected.

“Sometimes (freshman) can do it, and sometimes they don’t,” Schmidt said. “It’s their first year and they’re still trying to learn. Hopefully they’re learning and they have more ups than downs.”

Canisius’ 61 points are the fewest that the team has scored in a win under Witherspoon.

“I’m really proud of our effort and that we stepped up to the challenge of doing a better job rebounding and making free throws,” Witherspoon said.

This was the 168th meeting between the two teams and, remarkably, it was only the ninth time that the game was decided by five or less points.

The Bonnies will return home to host Mercer on Tuesday. Then, they’ll fly to Florida next weekend for the Boca Beach Classic in Boca Raton.

“When you have a young team, you’re going to have some games like this,” Schmidt said. “We need to fight through it and get better.”

 

Sharpshooting freshmen lead Bona to first victory

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

TORONTO — It is often said that a team’s first win can be elusive.

But what the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team lacked over its first three games, it found in two instrumental freshmen on Saturday night.

The Bonnies (1-3), led by Alejandro Vasquez and Justin Winston, held on to defeat Rutgers (3-1), 80-74, at Scotiabank Arena.

Vasquez shot 8-of-12 from the field, and 3-of-5 from three-point range, to rack up 20 points.

After the Scarlet Knights worked to get back in the game, Vasquez hit a corner three with 2:30 remaining in the game to put the Bonnies up by eight points.

“That’s a big shot, right there,” Vasquez said. “I was just hoping it would go in.”

Vasquez also pulled down four rebounds and handed out two assists in 32 minutes on the court.

The guard oozed confidence on the court, as he has all season. Vasquez has showed Bona fans that whether he shoots the ball or drives to the basket, he wants to score the ball.

“The memo from the beginning was to come out with energy,” he said. “We wanted to keep that energy the same throughout the game.”

Winston showed his ability to shoot the ball, as he shot 4-of-5 from three-point range and 6-of-11 from the field. He scored 19 points in 34 minutes.

“(Vasquez and Winston) grew up and played with confidence,” Bonnies head coach Mark Schmidt said. “With freshmen, you never know when the light is going to come on. It went on tonight for both of those guys and they couldn’t have played better.”

Schmidt mentioned that with forward Osun Osunniyi out due to an injury, the Bonnies need to rely on their younger players to step up.

“Our young guys are put in a position where a couple of them need to have some success,” Schmidt said. “The game wasn’t too big for them, and that’s what we need.”

SBU shot 49 percent from the field, which was an improvement from the 35 percent that it had shot over its first three games.

The Bonnies also found some better luck from beyond the arc, shooting 45 percent from three. That is a vast improvement from the 23 percent that the team had shot from there before this game.

Kyle Loftton scored 17 points and Dom Welch added 11 points.

“You only gain confidence by playing well, and not just in practice,” Schmidt said. “Hopefully this game will push them forward because they played well against a really good team and should be proud of their efforts.”

Rutgers was hurt by poor shooting, was they shot 42 percent from the field and, more notably, 28 percent from three.

“Basketball is a humbling game and you get what you deserve,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “We didn’t deserve to win tonight, and we didn’t.”

The Scarlet Knights had four players reach double digits in scoring, including Caleb McConnell leading the way with 13 points.

Myles Johnson scored 12 points, Geo Baker added with 11 points and Akwasi Yeboah chipped in with 10 points.

“I think we’re a much better basketball team than how we played today, but to Bonaventure’s credit, they did a good job of not allowing us to play like a good basketball team,” Pikiell said.

In an NBA arena 170 miles away from SBU, the atmosphere felt like a Bona home game at times.

“I’m proud to be the coach at Bonaventure,” Schmidt said. “The alumni, boosters and students come and really do a great job. We have 30,000 alums and it feels like they’re all here.”

The Bonnies will have to wait a week before playing again, as they’ll travel to Buffalo on Saturday to play little three rival Canisius at KeyBank Center.

 

Bonnies humbled by Ohio in season opener

photo: Erin Lanahan/The Intrepid

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE — When you lose by 12 points at home, there’s not too many positives to take away from the game.

That’s what Mark Schmidt, head coach of the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team, had to say after his team was thrashed in its season opener by the Ohio Bobcats, 65-53, Tuesday night in the Reilly Center.

It was evident that Bona’s offense struggled against Ohio’s zone defense.

Schmidt compared it to Syracuse’s zone, saying it was essentially the same scheme.

“Their zone really affected us,” Schmidt said. “We didn’t attack it well and we weren’t aggressive. I think it was a combination of that, and us missing some shots.”

Ohio head coach Jeff Boals said that he came into the game hoping to keep Bona’s shooters off balance.

“I thought our zone helped win the game tonight,” he said. “They got some good looks and it probably would have been a different game if they hit some of them.”

SBU shot 3-19 from beyond the arc (15.8 percent), and 36.4 percent from the field.

Dom Welch and Kyle Lofton had forgettable games to begin their sophomore seasons.

Welch scored five points, shot 2-12 from the field and 1-8 from three-point range. His only made three was with less than a minute remaining in the game, when the Bonnies were trailing by 16 points.

Lofton, who scored eight points, shot 3-11 from the field and 0-2 from beyond the arc.

“Your better players have to play well, and those guys struggled tonight,” Schmidt said. “We have faith in them, but when they don’t play well it’s hard to score.”

Freshman guard Alejandro Vasquez led the Bonnies in scoring with 12 points.

Vasquez, just the third Bona freshman to start a season opener in the Schmidt era (Jaylen Adams and Lofton), showed that he isn’t afraid to shoot the ball.

He took several good shots, and on other occasions, looked like he was trying to force it.

Vasquez shot 3-11 from the field and 2-7 from three.

Lost in the scenes from the night was an injury to Bonnies sophomore forward Osun Osunniyi.

With 15:49 left in the second half, Osunniyi stayed down on the floor after a play and appeared to be holding his knee.

The preseason all-conference and all-defensive team selection was helped off the floor by the Bona coaching staff, and looked like he was in a lot of pain. Osunniyi finished with six points in 11 minutes.

No additional information on the injury was provided after the game.

In his long-anticipated Bonaventure debut, forward Bobby Planutis scored eight points and pulled down 10 rebounds, including six offensive boards. He threw down an impressive transition dunk in the first half.

For Ohio, the three-headed attack of Jordan Dartis, Ben Vander Plas and Jason Preston was enough to beat the Bona defense.

Dartis led the scoring with 19 points, and shot 7-15 from the field. Vander Plas added 12 points for the Bobcats.

Perhaps the most impressive stat line, however, came from Preston.

The sophomore guard handed out 13 assists to go with 11 points, six rebounds and seven steals.

“(Preston) controlled the game for them,” Schmidt said. “We knew he was a good player and tried to keep him out of the paint, but he just controlled the game.”

Boals said that he was proud of his team for going into a hostile road environment and starting its season on the right foot.

“In order to win a conference championship, you’ve got to win tough games,” Boals said. “This place is as good as any. I’ve been at Duke and I’ve been at Kansas, and this place gets loud.”

For SBU, things don’t get any easier, as they host the defending America East conference champion Vermont Catamounts on Friday night.

“It’s never good to be young, but that’s just the way it is and we need to overcome that,” Schmidt said. “Hopefully this is a wake-up call and hopefully it shows the young guys what Division I basketball is all about.”

 

What we learned from St. Bonaventure-Alfred exhibition

photo: Erin Lanahan/The Intrepid

By Jeff Uveino

Wednesday night’s exhibition vs Alfred University went the way it does every year for the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team.

They worked out some kinks, rotated players and ran over an inferior opponent.

Still, there are several things that we can learn from the Bonnies’ 90-45 victory over the Saxons. We saw a sneak peak of how the offense could run, an idea of the hierarchy of players coming off the bench, and may have discovered a newcomer who can really play.

Here are three takeaways from Wednesday night.

Alejandro Vasquez could be an impact player sooner than we thought

When Vasquez was announced as a starter for the Bonnies, it probably came as a surprise to many. It certainly did to me.

The freshman guard went on to score 20 points in 26 minutes, shoot 7-14 from the field and 3-7 from three-point range.

He hit three’s on back-to-back possessions in the second half, and put a defender on the ground with a step back before the second one.

“He’s picked up the system quicker than some other guys we’ve had in previous years,” Bonnies head coach Mark Schmidt said. “He can shoot the ball when he takes good shots. We need two or three young guys to help us, and hopefully he’ll be one of them.”

After Vasquez’s performance, I can’t help but draw parallels to Kyle Lofton’s arrival on the scene in the exhibition last season.

Before that game, little was known about Lofton, who was expected to come off the bench at point guard for last year’s Bonnies. Lofton scored 15 points against Alfred, went on to start every game for SBU, and was named to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie team.

If Vasquez can be anywhere near the player for the Bonnies this year that Lofton was during his freshman year, it makes this Bona team a lot deeper than we thought it was.

And maybe, just maybe, Vasquez could be Schmidt’s latest start to come out of nowhere.

Planutis and Winston will complement each other well at power forward

Schmidt started sophomore guard/forward Bobby Planutis in a lineup that featured three other guards (Vasquez, Lofton, Dom Welch) and one forward (Amadi Ikpeze).

It’s been noted in the preseason that Planutis will most likely share time at power forward with freshman forward Justin Winston.

Winston played 21 minutes compared to Planutis’ 18, but scored just two points compared to 11 from Planutis.

Based on the different skill sets of the two players, it led me to think that the Bona offense would need to adjust when one of the players comes into the game for the other.

It’s been well noted that Planutis is a shooter, while Schmidt has repeatedly said that Winston has more bounce to his game and can attack on the inside.

However, Schmidt said that the offense can run smoothly regardless of whether Planutis or Winston is in the game.

“(Planutis) has a better feel right now because he’s been in the system for an extra year,” Schmidt said. “We run a ball screen motion offense, so (Planutis) can pop and shoot it, while (Winston) can pop and use his ‘junk in the trunk’.”

Planutis and Winston giving opposing teams two different looks could be a nice compliment for the Bonnies at the four position this year.

Ikpeze’s offseason work could make the Bonnies a lot more dangerous

A lot has been said about Ikpeze’s commitment to getting in shape and improving his game this past offseason.

In the exhibition, he looked great on the offensive end.

Ikpeze scored six points, which came off of two hook shots around the basket and one jumper from the free-throw line. He looked more comfortable on the offensive end than in years past.

“I was able to play okay, but there are things that I can improve on,” Ikpeze said. “Hopefully I can just keep working and build on my game to get ready for the real thing next Tuesday night.”

Ikpeze was referring to the Bonnies’ regular season opener, in which they’ll host Ohio University.

Ikpeze played nearly 12 minutes, while sophomore Osun Osunniyi, who started 21 games at forward last year, played 10 minutes.

SBU relied heavily on Osunniyi last season. If the two can each play at a high level this year, it makes Bona both deep and dangerous at forward.