ALLEGANY – 2018 did not start the way St. Bonaventure’s men’s basketball team envisioned it, but they’re hoping Wednesday’s 70-67 win over Saint Joseph’s can get them back on track and end a slide that threatened to undo what they accomplished in the first half of the season.
The Bonnies ran the table in December after star guard Jaylen Adams returned from an ankle injury, pushing their record to 11-2 while earning an overtime victory at Syracuse that gave them a win that would stand out while comparing bubble teams for the NCAA Tournament. Their only losses came against Niagara in the opener and against TCU in a tournament before the Horned Frogs earned a national ranking.
But the Bonnies began the New Year by dropping four of five, beating lowly Fordham in the process. Their conference record slipped to 2-4, putting them near the bottom of the Atlantic 10. Were their at-large changes slipping away? Despite the skid, they stayed strong in the power rankings, entering the week 48th in RPI and 63rd in ESPN’s BPI, while advanced stat site Kempom.com ranked them 71st.
But what St. Bonaventure needed most Wednesday was a win just to stay afloat in the A-10. They scrapped out a 70-67 victory on a tough offensive night, overcoming 26 fouls and 17 turnovers while Adams broke out of a slump for the go-ahead bucket in the final seconds.
“As you guys know, we were desperate for a win,” coach Mark Schmidt said, almost before his butt hit the chair in the Reilly Center’s media room.
So where do things stand now? Does Schmidt still feel like his team is putting together a resume worthy of NCAA consideration?
“We did a really good job in the first section of our schedule,” Schmidt told the Olean Times Herald after beating Syracuse. But asked for his thoughts Wednesday after improving to 13-6 overall and 3-4 in conference, Schmidt said “it’s way too early" to judge.
"I have no idea," Schmidt said. "We have 11 more games; it’s a long way to go. Our whole focus now after this game is George Washington and we gotta get another win. … You can’t look ahead, we’re not good enough.”
What Schmidt took from Wednesday’s game was that his team can play winning defense. They held the Hawks to 39.7 percent shooting, which will improve the Bonnies’ A-10-leading field-goal percentage defense. They gave up only five three-pointers on 18 attempts (27.8 percent) and won a huge edge in rebounds, 46-33.
“We defended, and that’s the ingredient,” Schmidt said. “Our offense isn’t always going to be there, we’re going to struggle at times, but when your defense is your staple, and we got away from that – and it’s harder to play defense on the road, that’s just the way basketball is – but we got back to playing the way we’re capable of playing defensively, and now hopefully our offense can come around.”
A quick run just after halftime gave Bonaventure a double-digit lead, but it had a tough time scoring the rest of the second half. Saint Joe’s came back with a 16-2 run to take the lead. Adams was held without a field goal over the first 19 minutes of the second half, but backup guard Nelson Kaputo kept the team in the game with two big three-pointers.
Ladarien Griffin tied the game at 67 with 1:16 left with a powerful dunk that finished a great passing play from Adams and Courtney Stockard. Bona got a big stop on defense with 37.4 seconds to go before Adams broke out of his drought for go-ahead layup with 19 seconds remaining.
“I told the team in the locker room, every player on our team’s going to have a day in the sun,” Schmidt said. “If you keep on working, you’re going to have some success. And I thought Nelson was a big player in this game. … It was a good victory. We needed one.”
Griffin and Stockard both had double-doubles while Adams scored a game-high 16 points, thanks to a strong first half. The Bonnies put the Hawks on the line 28 times, but they only converted 16 (57.1 percent).
“I don’t take any positives out of a loss,” Joe’s coach Phil Martelli said. “And people say, ‘Ah, you’re a jackass.’ I don’t really care about that. I think you have to take – it’s a numbers game. So we’re getting on that bus to go to that plane back to Philadelphia. ‘Fellas, we just shot 57 percent form the foul line.’ Right? But every time we go to the foul line in practice, everybody makes two. Isn’t that unusual? We had a plan: Under 10 turnovers, we walk out of here a winner. Eleven turnovers, K?”