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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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.”

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.

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 beat Niagara for sixth-straight win

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — The snowstorm that blew through the Southern Tier may have slowed down Wednesday evening commutes.

But it certainly didn’t slow down the offense of the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team, which shot 50 percent from the field on its way to an 87-70 in over Niagara at the Reilly Center.

SBU did not trail in the game, and led by double-digits for most of the way before surviving a Niagara comeback late in the second half.

The Purple Eagles pulled within six points with just over five minutes to go, but Bona re-gained momentum and went on a 19-8 run to end the game.

Six Bonnies scored in double-digits, including 17 points from Dominick Welch.

Welch shot 5-for-9 from three-point range, and also pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists.

“The more guys we have scoring the basketball, the more difficult it is for the opponent to guard us,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said. “That’s common sense. When you have six guys who can score, it makes your offense that much more effective.”

Kyle Lofton compiled a double-double, as he had 11 assists to go with 12 points.

“We need him to be a scoring point guard, and that’s what he’s doing,” Schmidt said. “I think he shot the ball much better today, and he’s always been able to pass the ball and be the floor general. We need him to do both.”

It was Lofton’s third game in a row in which he handed out 11 assists, as he previously did it against Hofstra and Gannon.

Alejandro Vasquez scored 14 points for the Bonnies, and Osun Osunniyi was close behind him with 13 points to go with seven rebounds.

Osunniyi said that Schmidt used the fact that Niagara had beaten SBU each of the past two years as motivation.

“Our mindset was that we weren’t going to lose,” Osunniyi said. “Two years ago they stole one here, so we had the mindset that we weren’t going to let them come in and beat us again.”

Rounding out the double-digit scorers for Bona were Amadi Ikpeze, who had 11 points and eight rebounds, and Justin Winston, who scored 10 points.

The Bonnies shot 46 percent from three-point range (12-for-16), and made 17-of-18 free throws.

Niagara was paced by Marcus Hammond, who scored 21 points. Nicholas Kratholm scored 10 points for the Purple Eagles.

The Bonnies out-rebounded Niagara 39-22, including 10-2 on offensive boards.

“We dealt with adversity, which was good to see,” Schmidt said. “There are a lot of positives. But we’ve got a long way to go, both offensively and defensively.”

This was SBU’s sixth-straight win, and the Bonnies now sit at 7-4 on the year. Niagara falls to 2-7 with the loss.

The Bonnies will not play again in the Reilly Center until Jan. 11, as they begin a four-game road trip at Middle Tennessee on Saturday.

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.”

 

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.”

 

Lofton looks to become leader in second season

photo by Erin Lanahan/The Intrepid

By Aidan Conaghan

Even though it will only be Kyle Lofton’s second season, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team will lean on him to become a leader.

The Bonnies will have to replace the leadership roles that LaDarien Griffin and Courtney Stockard left when the graduated.  Lofton hopes he can be the man to do it.  

Lofton said that Griffin and Stockard left him a great example how to be a great leader.

“They showed me how not to let struggles off the court affect me on the court,” he said.

The sophomore point guard was voted a team captain by the players and coaches.

“It shows the trust the head coach has in me,” Lofton said.

Lofton will co-captain the team, alongside senior Amadi Ikpeze and redshirt sophomore Bobby Planutis.   

Lofton had an impressive freshman season.

He averaged 14.4 points and 3.7 assists per game, which earned him a spot on the A-10 AllRookie Team.  

Even with a breakout freshman season, one of the most important goals for Lofton is to be a good leader.

One part of the Lofton’s game he has been working on is his three-point shooting. Lofton said the change in the three- point line will not affect his shot choice.

“We have been working with it all summer,” he said.  

One thing that is very important to Lofton is his home state, New Jersey.

Lofton has a tattoo on his calf with the logo of the New Jersey Nets.

I’m not a Nets fan but I wanted to represent New Jersey basketball,” he said  

New Jersey basketball has been represented well the past couple of seasons at St. Bonaventure.

There are four players on the roster that played high school basketball in New Jersey.

“Being from the metropolitan area, they teach us hard work and winning,” Lofton said.  

Lofton will look to lead the Bonnies tonight when they take on the Ohio Bobcats at 7:30.