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.

 

Winston, Bona’s latest Putnam pickup, ready to work

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

When Justin Winston committed to play basketball at St. Bonaventure in September 2018, he became the third Putnam Science Academy graduate in two years to do so.

The “Putnam Pipeline” to SBU has been talked about repeatedly since the arrival of Winston, following Kyle Lofton and Osun Osunniyi’s commitment the year before.

For Winston, the campus nestled in the foothills of the Enchanted Mountains felt like home.

“You can compare (Bonaventure) to Putnam because it’s a small school,” Winston said. “It’s a place where you can always work to get better as a player and as a person.”

The West Orange, New Jersey native, rated a four-star recruit by ESPN, stands at 6’8 and weighs 215 pounds.

In his senior year of high school at Immaculate Conception, Winston averaged 15 points per game.

Winston said that he saw Bona as the perfect situation to develop himself.

“I knew I could have a good social life while still being able to work on becoming a better basketball player,” Winston said.

Of course, Lofton and Osunniyi most likely did some recruiting of their own that influenced Winston’s decision.

“Since I had played with (Lofton and Osunniyi), I knew I’d always have family here,” Winston said.

Bonnies head coach Mark Schmidt has said that Winston will fit into the offense at the power forward position, sharing time with sophomore transfer Bobby Planutis.

“He’s an attacking type of forward,” Schmidt said of Winston. “He can shoot the ball, but he’s got better ball skills and more ‘junk in the trunk’.”

Winston said that he hopes to bring a little bit of everything to the floor for the Bonnies.

“I’m looking to bring a lot of intensity and energy,” he said. “I can grab rebounds and score inside and out.”

In the Bonnies’ exhibition vs. Alfred University last Wednesday, Winston logged nine rebounds and two points over 21 minutes.

It was his first taste of action in the Reilly Center, which he said he has been looking forward to playing in since his commitment.

“I’ll have a lot of eyes on me,” Winston said. “I’ve just gotta put on.”

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.