Bona fans– Don’t think what it could have been. Think what it can be

photos courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

BROOKLYN– It looked like a story book ending.

But it ended in a way that broke the hearts of the thousands of Bonnies fans that traveled to Brooklyn over the weekend.

When the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team’s 2018-19 season came to an end Sunday afternoon, it left an opportunity on the table that could have only been dreamed about at the beginning of the year.

The Bonnies fell to Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10 championship game, and the college careers of Courtney Stockard, LaDarien Griffin and Nelson Kaputo came to an end.

St. Bonaventure entered the tournament as the fourth seed, but once Sunday came around, it looked like everything they needed to happen to win the tournament came true.

 

The top three seeds in the tournament (VCU, Davidson, Dayton) had all been knocked out, and the Bonnies awaited a Saint Louis team in the final that they had beaten eight days before.

 

But when the final buzzer sounded, it brought sorrow instead of joy for Bonnies fans.

Bona was so close, so close, to making an an improbable run to the NCAA tournament. It would have been the first time the program had ever went to the tournament in back-to-back years and a remarkable end to the careers of three seniors that have been through a lot over the past four seasons at SBU.

But for many Bonnies fans, it became the game, the championship and the tournament run that could have been.

 

Sure, it’s easy to look back at the past and think what could have resulted if a bounce or two could have gone Bona’s way. It’s also easy to look at the turnaround that this team had, after starting the season 4-10 and then coming within seven minutes of an A10 championship.

But at the culmination of this season, what Bonnies fans should really be excited is the year to come– and probably the next three.

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Bonnies center Osun Osunniyi during their win over Rhode Island

The team started three freshmen (when they were healthy) for the majority of the season. Kyle Lofton, Dom Welch and Osun Osunniyi averaged a combined 30 points and 14.4 rebounds per game during the regular season. The trio also scored 35.3 points per game and pulled down 18 rebounds per game during the A10 tournament.

 

Under a coach that is notorious for giving freshmen time to develop before he gives them significant playing time, it is remarkable what this year’s freshman class did.

Lofton and Osunniyi, prep school teammates, each blossomed into impact players in the Atlantic 10 over the course of the year. Both were named to the conference’s All-Rookie team, and Osunniyi was also named to its All-Defensive team.

For his play over the weekend, Lofton was named to the A10 All-Tournament team.

Welch, who missed nine games in the regular season with an injury, took longer to come around than the other two.

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Bonnies guard Dom Welch after hitting a three against George Mason

But the Buffalo native showed his potential in Brooklyn. Welch shot 6-12 from beyond the arc and scored 20 a career-high points in Bona’s quarterfinal win over George Mason, and followed it up with a 13-point performance the next day against Rhode Island.

 

What impressed me the most from Welch over the weekend was his defensive awareness. He was all over the court, and his defensive play, along with his offense, showed that he was finally ready to play at the level Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt had hoped he could.

“The future is bright,” said Schmidt after the loss to Saint Louis. “We’ve got to bring in some more guys, but they are a talented group that is going to continue to get better.”

Schmidt has already landed several players who could fill the roles the seniors left, including Bobby Planutis, a transfer from Mt. St. Mary’s who had to sit out this season, and Justin Winston, a three-star recruit from the same prep school that Lofton and Osunniyi came from (Putnam Science Academy).

Those players and the other returners will have 25-point-per-game shoes to fill that Stockard and Griffin will take with them when they graduate.

Sounds tough, but Bona was put in the same situation this year after they lost Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley’s combined 37.2 points per game.

Maybe I’m just trying to be positive.

But it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Bonnies have a special trio of freshmen on their hands who have big-game experience after playing into Sunday of the A10 tournament. That experience will go a long way in future years if they can find themselves in the same spot.

The 2019 Bonnies came close. But this tournament run, which was almost one for the ages, could be just the beginning of what this young group can accomplish.

I’m not the only one who feels that way. In the final press conference of his career, Griffin showed his enthusiasm for the future of the Bona program.

“Those guys are gonna use this season as motivation and as long as they stay together they’re going to be really special,” said Griffin.

“They’re going to be really, really good.”

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Three takeaways from the St. Bonaventure vs Alfred

By: Jeff Uveino

The St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team rolled over the Alfred Saxons 90-42 in an exhibition game at the Reilly Center. Here’s three takeaways from the game:

  1. The freshman class could be good. Scary good.

The Bonnies had three freshmen score in double figures. Alpha Okoli led the way with 20 points, including shooting four-of-five from three-point range. Kyle Lofton scored 15 points and Dom Welch had 12. All three showed their playmaking ability, the highlight of which came on a thunderous Welch dunk late in the second half. But perhaps the freshman who impressed me the most was 6-10 forward Osun Osunniyi. He’s long, athletic and physical, and showed that he could be a major presence around the rim. Osunniyi had two blocks and four rebounds to go along with five points.

  1. Who will be the star?

The Bonnies got contributions from up and down their roster, but there wasn’t a player that stood out. No one looked like the “star,” or the type of player who could take over a game. This year’s Bonnies are probably already getting sick of being compared to Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, but those two were able to take over games last year, a part of the identity that this year’s team will need to find. Perhaps when Courtney Stockard returns, he can be that type of player for the Bonnies, but that may not happen for another month.

  1. Fifty-point win! (against a Division III team)

Yes, the Bonnies won by 48 points. They dominated on both ends of the floor. However, the teams they’re going to be playing during the regular season are going to be of a much different caliber than Alfred. The Bonnies were a mismatch for the Saxons physically and talent-wise, and for most of the night, they ran circles around them. Amadi Ikpeze dominated around the rim early in the game but was at least three or four inches taller than anyone in an Alfred jersey. It will be interesting to see how the Bonnies perform against some real competition.

 

St. Bonaventure will open regular season play on Nov. 7 at home against Bucknell.

 

Freshman looks to continue success as a Bonnie

By: Matthew Shalloe 

After a year in which St. Bonaventure finished with a 26-8 record, clinching themselves a NCAA tournament berth, they looked to reload instead of rebuild.

The Bonnies brought in a total of four freshman, one of them being Western New York’s all-time leading scorer, the 6-foot 5-inch 185-pound guard out of Cheektowaga High School, Dominick Welch.

Welch spent a year at Spire Academy, a prep school located in Ashtabula County, Ohio. When asked about how his time in prep school prepared him for this moment, Welch said, “It matured me. I feel as if it got me ready both mentally and physically for the season coming up. It got me away from home and prepared me very well.”

Coming out of high school and through his year at Spire Academy, Welch had offers from Temple, Siena, Buffalo and Hofstra, along with St. Bonaventure.

“Bonnies, for me, was the best choice,” Welch said. “They had recruited me since my junior year. I really liked how they stayed connected with me through the whole recruiting process. Being close to home was a big factor, and just the community seemed like a good place to be.”

Coming out of a high school sport and going into college athletics is always a big adjustment, no matter what sport it is. When asked how he feel his game would translate to the NCAA, Welch said, “I think it translates well.” But like any young player, he mentioned things he needs to work on.

“I would like to improve my ball-handling and getting stronger,” Welch said. “I feel as if I need to study the game more for me to really improve.”

Lastly, Welch talked about his expectations for both himself and the team heading into his freshman season.

“I expect that everybody works hard,” he said. “We want to be even better and carry on the success from last year. For myself, I expect to go hard every time I’m on the court and never let the team down.”

Welch and the 2018-19 Bonnies team continues to get ready to take on the Bucknell Bison to open the season Wednesday, November 7th at home for a 7 p.m. tip-off.