photo by Megan Lee/The Commonwealth Times
By Jeff Uveino
RICHMOND, VA — The last time Dominick Welch, Osun Osunniyi and Kyle Lofton had played in the Atlantic 10 tournament, they fell eight minutes short of a conference championship.
That was in 2019, when the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team lost a second-half lead to Saint Louis, abruptly ending the Bonnies’ run at the NCAA tournament. Two years later, the top-seeded Bonnies (14-4) avoided a second-half comeback by No. 9 Duquesne (9-9) and beat the Dukes, 75-59, in Friday’s A-10 quarterfinals at the Siegel Center.
Welch scored a game-high 18 points for the Bonnies while pulling down nine rebounds. The junior guard shot 7-of-15 from the floor and 4-of-10 from 3-point range.
SBU dominated the Dukes on both ends of the floor in the first half, taking a 40-19 lead into halftime. Duquesne cut into that lead in the second half, going on a 12-0 run in less than two minutes of game time. Emotion filled the arena during DU’s comeback, culminating in a bench-clearing scuffle at mid-court that resulted in an “administrative technical,” as it was called by the public address announcer, being called on the Bonnies.
“I thought we lost some focus,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said of the Duquesne comeback. “We got lackadaisical, loose with the ball. Duquesne upped their pressure a little bit, we didn’t handle it that well.”
Jaren Holmes ended the run by hitting a floater, which he followed with a dunk after a Duquesne turnover. After a media timeout with 12 minutes remaining, the Bonnies regained control of the game and didn’t give it back.
“Sitting in the timeout, letting the guys know, we’re still up by 10, so we were still in decent shape but we needed to make a run,” Schmidt said. “I thought our guys refocused and they got some stops, got some buckets and that was the game.”
Holmes, a junior guard, scored 14 points for the Bonnies, while Osunniyi stuffed the stat sheet with 18 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and three blocks. During the Dukes’ comeback, Osunniyi said that Schmidt told his team to keep its composure.
“We knew that they were going to make a run, they’re a good team,” Osunniyi said. “So, while they were figuring everything out, (Schmidt) just told us to relax, play loose, play to win and we got our composure back and played our game.”
Bona made a conscious effort to get the ball to Osunniyi in the post, which the junior forward/center said shrinks opposing defenses.
“It’s easier for my teammates to make shots when the ball is coming inside out, so you want to go inside early,” Osunniyi said. “Because if I’m being a presence inside, it kind of shrinks the defense to come help me more.”
He was equally impactful on the defensive end of the floor, where he battled with Duquesne senior center Michael Hughes for much of the game.
“I thought (Osunniyi) was terrific offensively, but more important, defensively,” Schmidt said. “Blocking shots. That was a huge key.”
Hughes led Duquesne with 15 points and eight rebounds, while Tavian Dunn-Martin and Tyson Acuff each scored 12 points. Bona held Marcus Weathers, Duquesne’s leading scorer that had averaged over 16 points per game going into Friday’s contest, to three points.
This was Bona’s third victory over the Dukes this season, as SBU has held Duquesne to an average of 57 points per game.
“We got some stuff off of our defense, got some stuff in the open court,” Schmidt said. “I thought against Dayton (on Monday), we were sluggish with the ball, the ball was sticking… we moved the ball from side-to-side a little bit better today in the first half.”
Junior forward Jalen Adaway scored 12 points for SBU, while Lofton scored 11 points and handed out five assists. The Bonnies shot 49% from the field while holding Duquesne to 34% shooting from the field and 25% from 3-point range.
With the win, the Bonnies advance to Saturday’s semifinals, where they’ll play No. 4 Saint Louis in a rematch of the fateful 2019 A-10 championship game. While much speculation exists over their NCAA tournament chances, Friday’s win moved the Bonnies a step closer to a berth.
“Our guys have done a really good job of being able to turn the page,” Schmidt said. “The task at hand today was to leave 1-0.”
Despite the hype surrounding a potential NCAA appearance in Indianapolis in two weeks, Schmidt said that the team still has business to take care of in Richmond.
“We didn’t come (to Richmond) to go 1-0, we came here to go 2-0, and now we’re halfway there,” Schmidt said. “Now we’ve got to go back, get some rest and hopefully we can play better (Saturday).”