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Bucky Gleason: Unsightly win was pretty enough for Bonnies

ALLEGANY – OK, so the victory was hardly one for the ages. Mark Schmidt isn’t going to waste time scouring video of the Massachusetts game Saturday to show at the postseason banquet. The Bonnies grabbed an unsightly win, secured a bye and turned their attention to next week.

In that sense, they arrived at their intended goal with a 60-56 victory over a stubborn UMass team that offered a glimpse of what awaits Bona when it opens the Atlantic 10 Tournament on Thursday afternoon in Pittsburgh. The Bonnies earned the fifth seed and will play the UMass-Saint Joseph’s winner.

St. Bonaventure finished with an 11-7 record in the A-10, a respectable season in a very good conference. They ended the regular season with a 19-11 record overall, marking just the fourth time since 1980 that they had that many regular-season victories. And now they need to play better in the conference tourney.

If the Bonnies’ offense short-circuits against defenses designed to take away their guards the way it did against UMass, they’re headed for another one-and-done in the A-10 and can kiss the NCAAs goodbye. It’s one reason they took the win Saturday over an inferior team and turned their attention to the postseason.

It was an ugly win, indeed, but a win nonetheless.

“We have to play better,” Schmidt said. “But it’s a good sign when you don’t play really well and you still win. We persevered through some adversity. We showed some mental toughness, which is good.”

Bona and UMass took more missteps than the White House staff. For a while, it looked like a fake basketball game. The Bonnies stayed in the game because the Minutemen, somehow, were worse. If the opponent were Dayton or one of the other top teams in the conference, they could have lost by 30.

UMass had lost nine of 11 games down the stretch, so we’re not talking about an A-10 heavyweight that gave Bona all it could handle Saturday. If anything, the Minutemen exposed the Bonnies with defenses designed to negate their two biggest weapons this season.

Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg reached into his defensive playbook to limit the effectiveness of guards Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley after the two combined for more than 40 points per game this season. The idea was to take them away, frustrate them just enough for long enough and disrupt the offense.

The Minutemen threw the book at the Bonnies and, in essence, provided the book on them. Adams and Mobley combined for just three field goals while trying to navigate a box-and-one on Adams and a triangle-and-two on both. Adams was shut out from the floor in the first half, and Mobley didn’t hit a field goal in the second.

It almost worked.

Bona converted just one of 11 shots from three-point range in the game, fell behind after falling asleep defensively early in the second half and recovered with a surge over the final five minutes. Adams and Mobley were a combined 3 for 18 from the floor, a blueprint for defeat on most nights.

UMass (4-14 in A-10, 14-17 overall) opened the second half with an 11-2 run to take a 34-32 lead. Malik Hines scored four baskets in the first four minutes, including a pair of two-handed slams – Dunkin’ Hines? – after he was left alone. You could understand why he was open. The 6-10 sophomore averaged 3.3 points per game. He finished with 13.

“We scrapped it out defensively,” Adams said. “I thought we played really well defensively, especially in the first half. We couldn’t score the ball. The triangle-and-two kind of affected us a little bit, but it’s all about adjustments. We did a good job with that in the second half.”

Adams did not play his best game by any measure, but he came through when it mattered. He helped Bona regain the lead with his first two baskets of the game and made eight straight free throws in the final five minutes. He was 12 for 12 from the foul line, had nine assists, one turnover and a team-high 17 points.

Mobley made only one bucket all afternoon, was frustrated while under duress in the second half and finished with a season-low five points. But he made two free throws with 22 seconds remaining to give Bona a 58-54 lead.

The Bonnies found soft spots around the foul line against the triangle-and-two Saturday, but struggled to convert until David Andoh made two big buckets and gave them the lead with 2½ minutes left. Bona can expect more of the same next week during the conference tournament.

“I think other teams will at least give it a try,” Kellogg said. “They attacked it very well. We tried it last year, and it was somewhat of a disaster. I didn’t know how it was going to work tonight. Our guys were locked in more than they were earlier in the year.”

St. Bonaventure needs to win the A-10 tourney to reach the NCAAs. The Bonnies haven’t advanced to the Big Dance since 2012, when they ran the table as the fourth seed in the conference tournament. They were one made shot away from taking down Florida State before falling in their first game.

The Atlantic 10 is expected to have three teams reach the NCAAs, barring an early upset in the conference tournament. Bona was snubbed last year after winning a share of the regular-season title and getting dumped by Davidson in Brooklyn.

Dayton is certain to grab an at-large bid no matter what happens in Pittsburgh after finishing first in the A-10. Virginia Commonwealth also should get an at-large bid. Rhode Island also has the inside track on an invitation. Richmond likely needs to reach the A-10 final and may need to win the tourney.

St. Bonaventure has no wiggle room.

“Who knows?” Schmidt said. “We have to play well. You have to go there and play with confidence. You can’t play not to lose. You have to play to win the next game. Hopefully, that’s what we’ll do on Thursday. Hopefully, we can advance.”

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