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.   

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.

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.”

Lofton’s game-winning jumper propels Bonnies over La Salle

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

Kyle Lofton did it again. 

The St. Bonaventure guard hit a go-ahead jumper with three seconds remaining and the Bonnies defeated the La Salle Explorers Wednesday night, 62-60. 

Lofton, a freshman, got the ball to start a Bonnies possession with 10.7 seconds left and the score tied. He dribbled to his right, drove to his left and pulled up from the free throw line to send the Reilly Center crowd into a frenzy. 

“It was on me to take the last shot,” said Lofton. “Coach trusts me and gives me room to make errors, so that makes me more comfortable. I was confident and I hit it.” 

Lofton finished the game with 18 points. 

Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt said he has been impressed with Lofton’s shot-making ability all season and that the freshman plays beyond his years. 

“I trust him, he plays 40 minutes a game,” said Schmidt. “He hits big shots and he doesn’t play like a freshman. Out of the timeout, I can put the ball in his hands and know that, for the most part, he’s going to make the right play.” 

The game was close the whole way, with SBU leading by four points at halftime. The Explorers came out of the gates strong in the second half, but an and-one dunk from SBU forward Osun Osunniyi followed by a technical on LaSalle gave the Bonnies momentum. They proceeded to go on a 13-3 run. 

The Bonnies led by as many as 11 points in the second half (50-41), but La Salle’s shooting got them back into the game late. 

The Explorers hit ten three-pointers on the night, as opposed to just three from the Bonnies. 

La Salle appeared as if it would get the last possession of the game, but guard Isiah Deas slipped on a drive and turned the ball over, giving Lofton his chance. 

Schmidt talked about SBU’s defensive performance and its struggles that kept La Salle in the game. 

“I always say, if you defend, rebound, take care of the ball and make your foul shots, you’ll do well,” he said. “We only did two of those things tonight. In the last couple games, we took care of the ball and made our free throws, and that’s why we won by a larger margin. We didn’t do those things tonight, which kept it close.” 

Courtney Stockard scored 16 points and dished out seven assists for the Bonnies. Osunniyi had another big night on the glass with 13 rebounds, nine points and five blocks. 

“Defense has always been the main focus of my game,” said Osunniyi. “We feed off the crowd and want to get them in the game early, so if I can block some shots it gets them involved and helps my teammates on the offensive end.”  

La Salle was led by Pookie Powell, who scored 20 points and knocked down four three-pointers. Deas added 16 points. 

Explorers guard Saul Phiri scored 10 points and hit a big three with a minute left to tie the game at 60 before the Lofton magic. 

St. Bonaventure improved to 12-14 overall and 8-5 in the Atlantic 10, and La Salle fell to 8-17 overall and 6-7 in the A10. 

The Bonnies have now won three games in a row and six of their last eight. 

“It wasn’t a masterpiece offensively, but we gutted it out,” said Schmidt. “It was a blue-collar win.”

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.”