By: Anthony Goss
St. Bonaventure senior point guard Kyle Lofton played 39 minutes and 59 seconds in Friday’s Atlantic 10 quarterfinal game against Saint Louis without attempting a single free throw. The Bonnies trailed Saint Louis, 57-56, when freshman Billikens guard Jordan Nesbitt fouled Lofton, sending him to the foul line to either win the game or force overtime.
The first shot went in and out. The second danced around the rim and bounced out. Lofton chased after his miss, but his rebound attempt failed to go in.
The memorable sequence ends the campaign for the former A-10 champions. Saint Louis defeated the Bonnies, avenging three straight defeats dating back to last year’s A-10 Tournament.
“He epitomizes everything we want in a player,” Bona’s head coach Mark Schmidt said of Lofton. “We wouldn’t have been the fourth seed without him.”
The game began with a made jumper from Lofton. The Bonnies then proceeded six minutes without another score.
“We knew it was going to be like this. In tournament games, you don’t get the opportunity to shoot here, so it’s gonna be more a defensive-oriented game,” Schmidt said.
The two conference powerhouses battled through the first half. Saint Louis used an 8-2 run to take a 26-20 lead, capped off by a pair of free throws from junior forward Francis Okoro. Okoro finished with 14 points all in the first half.
The Saint Louis front court prevented easy inside looks for the Bonnies and disrupted the rhythm of senior forward Osun Osunniyi.
“They pushed me out of position and kept me out of my comfort zone,” Osunniyi said.
A layup from senior guard Dominick Welch pulled the Bonnies within four, and they trailed, 26-22, at halftime.
Saint Louis extended their lead to six to start the second half, but Lofton led an 8-0 run to give the Bonnies the lead. The Billikens battled back to take a 47-37 lead thanks to the hot shooting of freshman guard Gibson Jimerson. Jimerson led all scorers with 20 points and shot 6-9 from three.
The Bonnies trailed by 10 with 10:57 left. A pair of threes from senior forward Jalen Adaway pulled the Bonnies closer, but they still trailed, 52-48, with less than four minutes remaining.
The Bonnies made runs late but seemingly played from behind for most of the second half.
“It wasn’t great execution. It was great defense. We’re not surprised,” Schmidt said.
Osunniyi made a layup with 1:24 remaining to put the Bonnies up 56-55. A series of missed shots and rebounds by both teams led to the Billikens controlling the ball with 17 seconds left. Jimerson hit the game-winning jump shot out of an inbounds play.
“It sucks for us to not win,” Osunniyi said. “It just didn’t go our way today.”
Senior guard Jaren Holmes missed a floater with four seconds remaining. Lofton secured an offensive rebound, but his two missed free throws ended the game and almost certainly dashed the Bonnies’ hopes of returning to March Madness.
Adaway led the Bonnies’ scoring with 18 points, and Welch added 14 as well with a 6-11 shooting night. Lofton scored 10 points with four assists and two steals.
“The countless hours we’ve spent together on and off the court…it’s been amazing,” Adaway said. “It’s just been amazing to actually spend time with these great people and all these experiences and memories we will have.”
Schmidt had only high praise for all five of his seniors despite the loss.
“I’m proud of these guys and what they represent to their families, to our program,” Schmidt said. “All those five starters, they’re in the gym all the time. They’re gym rats and that’s one of the reasons why we’ve had the success we’ve had.”