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 honor legends, beat Hofstra

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE — Mark Schmidt described it perfectly.

On the day that the St. Bonventure men’s basketball team honored its legends, the Bonnies played arguably their best game of the season thus far, routing Hofstra at the Reilly Center on Saturday, 73-45.

“It couldn’t have been better,” Schmidt said. “It was a great day to be at Bonaventure and to be a Bonnie.”

SBU continued its celebration of the program’s 100th season by honoring its all-time team at half time, and celebrating its 1970 Final Four team after the game.

The Bonnies went on a 24-1 scoring run that Hofstra could not come back from.

Jaren English had a breakout offensive game for SBU, scoring 17 points and shooting 4-of-5 from three-point range.

English led a tremendous overall day for the Bona offense, which shot 49 percent from the field and 48 percent from beyond the arc.

Dom Welch also scored 17 points for the Bonnies, and Bobby Planutis scored 11 points and pulled down eight rebounds.

“We have good shooters,” Schmidt said. “It hadn’t been going well, but I thought we shot the ball much better in Florida (last week), and once the ball starts going in it helps your confidence.”

English said that Schmidt talks to the team every day about being ready to play, and that the Bonnies came out excited to play in front of the program’s legends.

“That’s why I came to Bonaventure, is to play in games like this,” English said. “I just want to bring toughness, win games and win championships.

“Coach Schmidt tells me what I need to do, and I do it.”

English, a sophomore guard in his first year at Bona’s after transferring from Ranger Community College in Texas, had averaged nine points per game over his first three appearances prior to Saturday.

“(English) shot the ball really well and he brings a different dimension to our team,” Schmidt said. “He shot 4-of-5 from three, and that was something that we didn’t have over our first three games.”

Osun Osunniyi had a promising game after battling a knee injury over the past few weeks. He scored eight points, pulled down 16 rebounds and blocked two shots.

Hofstra struggled offensively, shooting just under 28 percent from the field and 16 percent from three-point range.

Desure Buie scored 17 points for the Pride, and Eli Pemberton scored nine points.

Up next for the Bonnies is two more home games, as they’ll host Gannon next Saturday and Niagara on Dec. 18.

Bona will then go on the road to finish its non-conference schedule, with trips to Middle Tennessee State and Buffalo.

“We have a lot of inexperience and I don’t think we’re nearly where we need to be, but we’re learning,” Schmidt said. The more we get put in situations, the better we’ll be.”

English, a new face around SBU, seemed right at home when he talked about getting to meet the program’s legends.

“It’s an honor to be in their presence, with all the great things they’ve done for this program,” English said. “Coach Schmidt tells us all the time that we have to play for everyone in this town, and for the people who played before us. We did that today.”

 

Bona wins ugly in Osunniyi’s return

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Justin Myers

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — This was the game Bonnies fans had been waiting to see, as the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team was back at full strength with sophomores Osun Osunniyi and Jaren English back in the rotation.  

Both players returned to action to play significant roles in Tuesday night’s matchup vs. Mercer. The result of this gritty, hard fought performance was a 56-51 victory that improved the team’s record to 2-4 on the year.  

Osunniyi, who returned after four games due to a knee injury, made his presence felt. The big man tallied a double-double of 15 points and 13 rebounds.  

“You need someone back there (Osunniyi) that cleans up mistakes,” Bonnies head coach Mark Schmidt said. “Osun does a really good job not only just blocking shots, but taking charges as well.”  

English, who played in his first Division I game ever, did not lead the team in scoring, but brought the energy that the Bonnies needed off the bench.  

“He’s a winner,” Schmidt said when asked about the play of English. “Just in practice, his energy, his enthusiasm, his willingness to do what is takes to win, he’s really (our) glue guy.”

The most crucial point of the game that Bonnies fans should remember is the late-game rebound that sophomore guard Dom Welch hustled for that secured their second win of the year 

“When you’re struggling offensively, it affects your defense,” said Schmidt. “This is a good win where it shows the guys that if we don’t play well offensively, but we defend and rebound, we can win games.”   

The Bonnies will now travel to Boca Raton, Florida for the tournament portion of the Boca Beach Classic. St. Bonaventure plays San Diego in the opening round of the tournament on Sunday at 9 p.m.

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.”

 

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.”

Bonnies defense leads the way to fifth straight win

photo courtesy of gobonnies@sbu.edu

By Isaiah Blakely

The all-time season series between the St. Bonaventure Bonnies and the Duquesne Dukes was 60-60 coming into Wednesday night in the Reilly Center. The Bonnies had won five of the last six meetings with the Dukes by six points or less.

But this night was a different story for St. Bonaventure (14-14, 10-5 A-10) which clinched its 10 win in Atlantic 10 play for a program record fifth season in a row beating the Dukes (18-10, 9-5 A-10) 68-47.

The Bonnies defense led the way once again only allowing one Dukes player to score in double figures. Two of Bonaventure’s seniors led the way. Courtney Stockard led all scorers with 21 points and LaDarien Griffin had his second double-double of the year with 16 points and 11 rebounds.

Stockard got Bonaventure rolling, scoring six early points to help the Bonnies jump out to a 19-7 lead. That early run was capped off by freshman Osun Osunniyi’s two-handed slam. The Bonnies had four scorers in double figures including Osunniyi who had 10 points and added nine rebounds and three blocks. Freshman guard Kyle Lofton also scored 10 points and had six assists.

St. Bonaventure’s biggest lead in the first half was 17, but Duquesne it strong including a layup right before half by freshman Lamar Norman Jr., to cut the Bonnies halftime lead to 33-22. Norman Jr. was the Dukes only scorer in double figures, he had 20 points.

The Bonnies started the second half fast with an 8-0 run to go up 19.

Stockard sealed the win in the final minutes with a three pointer from the wing and a reverse jam on the fast break to put the Bonnies up 20.

Duquesne only shot 28 percent from the field and head coach Mark Schmidt talked about the defensive performance.

“It was as good of a defensive performance as we’ve had all year,” Schmidt said. “If someone would’ve told me that we would’ve held them to 47 points, I would have told them they were crazy.”

The Bonnies have held six of their last seven opponents to 60 points or less are 12-0 this season in those games.

The Bonnies now have a .500 record for the first time since they were 1-1 after their win over Jackson State in November.

The Bonnies are looking to get over .500 for the first time all year on Saturday at George Washington

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.”