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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Schmidt becomes all-time leader with Bona win over George Mason

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

The St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team defeated George Mason, 79-56, on Sunday afternoon at the Reilly Center– and after the final buzzer sounded, you couldn’t find a face in the RC without a smile.

The win was the 203rd of head coach Mark Schmidt’s career at Bonaventure. That number breaks Larry Weise’s career record for coaching wins at the school, which had stood for 46 years.

The afternoon was capped off by a tear-jerking postgame video tribute.

Congratulatory messages from former Bonnies star Andrew Nicholson, Bona alumnus and top ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski, Larry Weise himself and more were followed by a nostalgic trip through some of Schmidt’s most notable wins.

The milestone victory comes 12 years after Schmidt took over the Bonaventure program.

“When you make family decisions like we did, you just never know if you’re making the right decision or not,” said Schmidt. “But I feel comfortable here. The people here have taken us in and made us feel welcomed, and it feels like home.”

Lost in the Schmidt hype was one of the best performances the Bonnies have turned in this season, and another stellar game by a freshman guard.

Kyle Lofton scored a career-high 32 points and shot 7-8 from behind the three-point line. He also dished out seven assists.

Lofton banked home his first three-pointer of the game, and after that, he caught on fire.

“When you see the ball go in, the hoop gets bigger,” said Lofton. “I’ve stayed confident and put bad games behind me. I’ve been in the gym mornings and nights getting reps up which makes me confident.”

Lofton scored 18 of his points in a first half that saw the Bonnies play inspired and jump out to a 17-point lead at the break (42-25).

SBU led 16-0 after the first media timeout, and Lofton had 11 points. He played the entire game until Schmidt emptied out his bench with a minute to go.

“Kyle couldn’t have played better,” said Schmidt. “Hitting those early shots relaxes you, allows you to play more free and gives you energy on the defensive end.”

The Patriots knocked down some shots midway through the second half to get back into the game, pulling the deficit to as little as 10 points. They were unable, however, to shoot consistently enough to overcome the first-half hole.

GMU was without senior guard Otis Livingston II for a good portion of the game, as he would only play 20 minutes while dealing with an injury.

Justin Kier stepped up for the Patriots, leading them with 21 points. Livingston II would finish with 10 points, and Javone Greene also scored 10. 

For St. Bonaventure, Courtney Stockard added 17 points and Osun Osunniyi turned in another superb defensive effort with 11 rebounds and five blocks. Dom Welch chipped in with 10 points.

The Bonnies improved to 11-14 overall and 7-5 in the Atlantic 10. George Mason fell to 15-11 and 9-4 in the A10.

SBU has now won five of its last seven games, and will next face La Salle at home on Wednesday, Feb. 20.

The Bonnies continue to climb in the A10 standings, and now sit just one game out of fourth place.

“We want to get into the top four and get the bye until the quarterfinals,” said Schmidt. “Can you win the tournament playing four games? Yeah, but it’s easier to do it in three.”

In a season that has featured less success than Bonnies fans have recently been accustomed to, Sunday’s game and what the win meant to Schmidt and the program gave them a lot to be thankful for.

“I love it here,” said Schmidt. “And hopefully I’m here for a lot more years.”

Women’s soccer: Patriots blank Bonnies

By Mikael DeSanto

The St. Bonaventure Bonnies were shut out 5-0 by the George Mason Patriots in their conference opener Thursday night.

“We have to be a better team together; we have to be better in the back half,” said Bonnies coach Steve Brdarski.

“We gave up way too many goals today. As a group, we didn’t play anywhere close to being perfect.”

Both teams had chances to open the game, but George Mason started the scoring as junior Sarah Hardison netted a goal in the 13th minute of play. Bonnies senior goalkeeper Christina Sarokon was able to keep the deficit at one while the offense tried to get going. They would find trouble, however, as the George Mason defenders would lock down the Bonnies offense throughout the game. Junior Jennifer Morris and sophomore Danielle Vis were denied on two separate Bona opportunities early.

In the 34th minute, Hardison would add her second goal of the game and give George Mason a 2-0 lead at the half. George Mason would add goals in the 62nd, 71st, and 85th minutes. Sophomore Jenna Hamilton put two in the back of the net, while junior Alex Myers tallied a goal as well.

Throughout the second half, Bonaventure did not lack for chances, adding four shots to the six they compiled in the first half. They put together some solid opportunities, working the outside of the field before driving towards the box, but were stopped by redshirt junior goalkeeper Kirsten Glad, who earned a clean sheet for her efforts. The game was also a particularly physical one, as there were nine fouls between the two teams. Bonaventure freshman Jessica Scruggs was the only player carded, receiving a yellow card late in the second half.

The Bonnies will look to move on from the loss and prepare for their next opponents, the George Washington Colonials.

“We have 48 hours to get things turned around, get the ship right and get ready for the next team,” Brdarski said. “You pick yourself of the ground and you say you got beat by a better team, and you move on and get ready for George Washington.”

The Bonnies’ next home game will be against George Washington on Sunday afternoon, where they will look to improve on their 3-6-2 record.

Ndoye, Bonnies down George Mason

By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio

One thing has been certain about this oft-inconsistent Bonnies team: they dominate in neutral-site games, especially Youssou Ndoye.

The star center led the Bonnies with 28 points, a career high, and 13 rebounds. He made nine of 11 shots from the field and 10 of his 11 free throws. With rim-rattling dunks and high-percentage looks from close-range, he was as efficient as ever.

“I give all the credit to my teammates,” Ndoye said. “They found me in the spot that I’m really comfortable with and I was able to finish most of the time (by) just turning and finishing without taking a dribble or just taking one. (They) did a really good job of finding me when I was open.

“I was just trying to win. We got blown out the last two games so I was just wanted to make sure I came out (and had) a good start. The last two games we played (I was) shooting real bad from the field. This game, I was able to make my first couple shots and we felt great.”

“Whenever your inside guy plays well both offensively and defensively, it helps you,” said Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt. “When you have a good big guy that’s active the way Youssou was today, it makes (your team) that much better. When he has been (active), we’ve played really well.”

For George Mason, trying to stop such a dominant force was a near-impossible task on this night.

“I thought (Ndoye) did it on the boards and did it with a tremendous amount of strength,” said Patriots coach Paul Hewitt. “A couple of finishes he had, we fouled him pretty good. I don’t think it was as much out of their sets as him just enforcing his will.”

Ndoye’s play is often the difference between winning and losing. In Bonaventure wins this season, he is averaging 14.2 points a game. In losses, he’s averaging just eight.

“It’s a huge difference,” Marcus Posley said. “We knew what Youssou was capable of; everybody knows what Youssou can do. It’s just great seeing him have this breakthrough game and seeing him back in his groove… we all fed off it. He kept everyone lifted and motivated everyone else.”

Posley added 22 points with five three-pointers, a season-high. The junior guard has become one of the leaders of this team, both vocally and with his play.

“Credit to (Dayton and Richmond) for beating us; they’re both good teams, but we just didn’t play the way we were capable of playing,” he said. “Tonight was definitely a bounce-back game and we just wanted to (get back to) .500 and be even in conference play. We just played well as a team.”

“You’re only as good as your guards,” said Schmidt. “For the last couple games our guards have struggled from the three-point line. When you don’t shoot well from the perimeter everything’s sucked in inside. No matter who you have inside, it’s hard to move their feet around. When you shoot the ball (well) it spaces things out.

“When out guards shoot the ball (well), it doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that we’re a better team.”

As great as Bona looked offensively, the defensive performance was what truly overpowered George Mason. The brown and white outrebounded the Patriots by a 41-28 margin (with 17 offensive boards) and held them to just 38 percent shooting from the floor. They have struggled to defend the three-point shot this season, but Mason made just two of 14 from behind the arc.

“Our perimeter defense was fairly good today,” said Posley. “They hit some threes late in the game, but (the perimeter defense) is just credit to the coaches putting us in that position. We just executed our gameplan.

“That’s the good thing about having multiple guys rally together and talk to each other instead of just having one person trying to talk to the whole team by himself. It’s a good thing having all five on the floor talk about it together and say, ‘We’re not gonna do this again.'”

“(Going) into halftime I told the guys that we shot 35 percent and were up by 16,” said Schmidt. “That’s because we had 14 offensive rebounds and way more shots than they did. They’re a big, physical team and we matched or exceeded their physicality.”

The presence inside looked to be inhibited in the early going when starting forward Dion Wright picked up two quick fouls and was only able to play 12 minutes, but Bona got 26 solid minutes from Chris Dees in relief. The big man grabbed five rebounds, dished out two assists, got a steal and blocked a shot.

“I thought (Dees) gave us a big, big lift,” said Schmidt. “He played a little bit out of position at the four (power forward) and he really responded. Everybody always talks about points; Chris had a huge impact in the game and didn’t score a basket. He really played a vital role in our victory.”

“Defensively we were helping each other more and (we were) talking,” said Ndoye. “It just got all of us going when we were all on the same page.”

As for the environment in the Blue Cross Arena, coach Schmidt was pleased with the turnout.

“It’s always good to come to Rochester,” he said. “I was concerned about the crowd (when I) heard the tickets weren’t (selling) great, but I thought we had a good crowd tonight. Hopefully the Bonaventure alums liked what they saw.”

The Bonnies hope their exceptional win on Wednesday night will start a winning streak. With winnable games coming up against underwhelming St. Joseph’s and Duquesne squads, SBU has the potential to be 4-2 in the conference and 11-6 overall going into the Rhode Island game a week from Sunday.

Simply put, Bona goes as Youssou goes.

Men’s basketball: George Mason Preview

By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio

Rochester-area St. Bonaventure fans will watch their Bonnies host the George Mason Patriots on Wednesday night at 7 in the Blue Cross Arena.

After a one-year hiatus, the Rochester game returns in what is being called the Fibertech Conference Classic. The Bonnies have played 19 games in the Flower City, with many of those games going down to the wire. Memorable matchups include a close loss to Syracuse in front of 11,650 in 2003, a last-second defeat to North Carolina State in 2011 and a five-point win over Niagara in 2012.

This will be the second neutral-site game St. Bonaventure has played this season, the first being the Big Four Classic matchup against Niagara in Buffalo on Thanksgiving weekend. SBU had a dominant showing in that one, with a 74-59 win. Big man Youssou Ndoye played arguably the best game of his career in that contest, with 23 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks to lead the Bonnies.

The bright lights suited Bonaventure well in the First Niagara Center, and coach Mark Schmidt needs his players to put on a great performance once again in the Blue Cross. The brown and white, who come into this one at 8-6 overall, are on a two-game losing streak after following up a 20-point loss to Dayton with a 60-41 drubbing against Richmond. A win over the 6-9 Patriots in a game they will be favored would do a lot to help restore confidence in this inconsistent team.

Like Bonaventure, George Mason is 1-2 in conference play. They defeated La Salle 70-62 in their conference opener, then lost 75-65 to Richmond and 66-62 to UMass. The Patriots shoot 40.9 percent from the floor, 30.4 percent from three. They have shown they can rebound, with just over 37 rebounds per game.

Which team will get back to .500 in the A-10? Here’s the full breakdown.

The Coaches:

St. Bonaventure- Mark Schmidt. 115-115 as Bonnies coach, 1-0 vs George Mason.

George Mason- Paul Hewitt. 62-52 as Patriots coach, 0-1 vs St. Bonaventure.

Key players for George Mason:

Shevon Thompson- 6-11 junior center. You don’t see a big man that can match up in size with 7-foot Bona center Youssou Ndoye everyday. Thompson, who hails from Kingston, Jamaica, has big game to match his big frame. The center, in his first season with the Patriots, is averaging 12.9 points and 11.7 rebounds this season, with double-digit points in six of his last seven games and double-digit boards in seven of his last eight. He had 19 and 17 against Richmond, while Ndoye had just four and six while dealing with foul trouble throughout. For the most intriguing individual matchup, look no further than the center spot.

Patrick Holloway- 6-1 junior guard. For the second game in a row, the Bonnies will face a skinny, quick point guard. Holloway, the team’s sixth man, averages 12.3 points on 38.7 percent shooting for this Patriots team, with 30 more shots attempted than Thompson. He shot just over 41 percent from three last year but has only made 24 of his 89 attempts from behind the arc this season. The pressure has been on him to be a go-to scorer for this team, but the shots just haven’t been falling as much as he would have hoped.

Marquise Moore- 6-2 sophomore guard. Moore has been the best all-around guard for the Patriots this season, averaging 9.7 points with 3.5 rebounds and a team-leading 2.6 assists per contest. He has been good at drawing fouls, with just under five free throws attempted a game.

Keys to victory for George Mason: Mason has to win this one in the post. Thompson has to perform offensively; the Patriots are 2-4 when he is held under 10 points. The Patriots are an excellent rebounding team, but they are going against a better one; if they can win the battle on the boards against the Bonnies, which only Buffalo and Dartmouth have done this year, they will be in the driver’s seat due to Bona’s offensive slump of late. If Ndoye, Dion Wright and Denzel Gregg grab offensive rebounds and get second-chance points, however, the Patriots are fighting an uphill battle.

Keys to victory for St. Bonaventure: The Bonnies need to be more disciplined than they have been the past few games. They started slow against Dayton because of early turnovers that forced them to play a futile game of catch-up the entire game. The turnovers continued against Richmond, but new problems arose: silly fouls and poor shot selection that led to a 32.7 percent shooting percentage and just seven foul shots. Perhaps the atmosphere in Rochester will give them energy they have severely lacked the past few games, enabling them to play a committed, disciplined ballgame.

Prediction: The Bonnies will put on a strong showing for the pro-Bona crowd in Rochester, who will provide the lift they need to get back to playing Bonaventure basketball. They may not have always shown it this season, but they are a more talented team than George Mason from top to bottom. Schmidt’s team will have a strong start and will not look back until the final buzzer. 75-64 Bonnies.