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St. Bonaventure men's basketball prepares for NCAA Tournament-caliber test

ALLEGANY – If the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team wants to make some noise in its Atlantic 10 conference schedule, it has to make the most of what's left in its nonconference schedule.

The schedule isn't easy for the Bonnies, as its final three nonconference games includes two against NCAA Tournament-caliber opponents in Vermont and Syracuse.

Bona (4-6) got its first test in an 80-62 loss Saturday at the Reilly Center against No. 17 Buffalo, a team that Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt called "an NCAA Tournament team."

The Bonnies came out too tentative. They allowed themselves to be pushed around by a defense that already thrived on creating pressure and keeping opponents in check. The Bonnies committed 15 turnovers against the Bulls, including 10 in the first half, and allowed UB to create scoring opportunities off transition. Of the Bulls’ 47 first-half points, 15 came off fast breaks.

When the Bonnies finally found some rhythm, they held the Bulls scoreless for a stretch of more than five minutes in the second half. Yet there was no way for Bona to make up much substantial ground in the second half.

“For our young guys, I think it’s a good learning experience,” Schmidt said of the loss to the Bulls. “Those guys experienced playing against a tournament team, a veteran team, a physical team, and hopefully we can take something from that."

It hasn't been an easy start to the season for the Bonnies, who lost four of their first five games, and played without forward/guard Courtney Stockard, who missed Bona's first six games while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason.

Jalen Poyser emerged as Bona's leading scorer in Stockard's absence, averaging 16.1 points and 3.4 rebounds in Bona's first nine games. Stockard has averaged 17.5 points and six rebounds, and is shooting 58 percent (29-for-50) in his first four games, including 18 points and six rebounds Saturday, but his presence alone couldn’t help the Bonnies as the Bulls snapped their three-game winning streak.

One thing freshman guard Kyle Lofton noticed about his team in its first 10 games is its hesitancy.

The Bonnies trailed at halftime in five of their six losses: 34-31 Nov. 12 at Niagara, 37-32 Nov. 19 against Georgia State, 30-24 Nov. 20 against Boise State, 30-23 Nov. 21 Akron and 47-25 Saturday against UB.

Lofton explained what has held the Bonnies back in those losses, particularly against UB.

“Don’t take a game lightly,” Lofton said. “We knew, coming in, that this team was going to try to bring it to us. We need to learn to come out, from the start, to be aggressive and just attack.”

The Bonnies need to take that aggressive approach as they close their nonconference schedule in the next three weeks.

St. Bonaventure plays Dec. 18 at Vermont, an NCAA Tournament qualifier in 2017. Bona faces Northeastern on Dec. 21 in Boston, then closes its nonconference schedule Dec. 29 at Syracuse, which reached the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen in 2018 and is a perennial tournament contender.

Eight days later, the Bonnies open their Atlantic 10 schedule Jan. 6 at George Mason in Fairfax, Va.

“We have to go back to work now,” Schmidt said. “We have 10 days off and we’re getting ready for another NCAA tournament team in Vermont.”

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