PITTSBURGH – Mark Schmidt laughed about the possibility Saturday after watching his team struggle in a victory over Massachusetts. He was asked about the advantage teams gain when playing early in the Atlantic 10 tournament over teams earning a bye based on their record.
Davidson played an early game last year and carried its competitive edge into its second game before knocking off St. Bonaventure in its tourney debut. Bona will have the same advantage over Rhode Island on Friday after cleaning up its offense in a 73-60 victory over UMass this afternoon in an A-10 pre-quarterfinal in PPG Arena.
Massachusetts figured to be ready to play after beating Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday, but that theory was blown to pieces. Bona dismantled the Minutemen, took away their desire and sent them home for the season. In the process, the Bonnies played one of their best first halves all season.
UMass was practically begging for forgiveness midway through the second half when Matt Mobley made two free throws to give Bona a 60-35 lead. Mobley finished with 19 points in a balanced offensive attack that included four players scoring in double-figures. Jaylen Adams had 17.
It needs to continue Friday. The Bonnies had a stretch of sloppiness after building a big lead before Schmidt slammed his clipboard and reeled in his players during a timeout with six minutes left. St. Bonaventure can ill-afford to get comfortable with any lead against any team in tournament play. Bona shot just 26.9 percent from the floor in the second half and still waltzed.
Bona, the fifth seed, still needs three more wins to reach the NCAA Tournament, but it played like a team prepared to complete with anybody in the A-10 tourney. The Bonnies will face a much stiffer opponent on Friday as the tournament resumes in Pittsburgh.
Rhode Island, the third seed, received a double-bye after winning its final five games, and nine of its last 11. The Rams haven’t played since last Saturday, which could put them at a minor disadvantage. This marks the first year the conference tournament was held in PPG Paints Arena.
In their only meeting this season, Rhode Island prevailed with a 71-59 win at home over Bona on Jan. 28. Senior forward Hassan Martin had a game-high 20 points for the Rams, who limited the Bonnies to 22 points in the first half. Bona led the conference in offense while Rhode Island was the best defensive team.
St. Bonaventure was in no position to look past UMass considering the competitive game they played Saturday in the Reilly Center. The Bonnies squeezed out a 60-56 victory, but it wasn’t easy and certainly wasn’t pretty for either team. The rematch was much cleaner for both.
Schmidt is a terrific coach, so he figured to make adjustments in the third meeting this season with UMass. Sure enough, he added a wrinkle when he inserted sophomore guard Nelson Kaputo with about six minutes left in the first half. It gave the Bonnies more speed and another threat on the perimeter.
Kaputo had played fewer than 10 minutes in 13 consecutive games going into the conference tourney, including two games in which he sat the entire game. He was ready when Schmidt summoned him. UMass was not. The Bonnies outscored the Minutemen, 19-8, with him in first half.
The Bonnies were bracing for another competitive game before taking off on a 10-0 run with three fast-break buckets wrapped around a pair of jumpers by senior David Andoh. Bona was prepared for whatever UMass threw at it and was effective in its perimeter game.
Mobley looked like an assertive, confident player in the first half after playing his worst game of the season in the regular-season finale. The Bonnies made 55.5 percent of their shots in the first half while limiting UMass to 38.5 percent from the floor. Bona couldn’t have played much better in the first 20 minutes.