ALLEGANY – At first, Kyle Lofton isn’t necessarily sure why he tends to fare well against a specific opponent.
But after scoring 17 points in the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team’s 74-65 win against George Mason on Saturday at the Reilly Center, Lofton gave a reasoned response.
“I hit shots when we play them,” said Lofton, who has averaged 20.6 points in five games against the Patriots. “I’m more aggressive, and I get downhill and that makes it easier.”
Lofton scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half, and the Bonnies (14-8, 6-3 Atlantic 10 Conference) went on a tear in the second half against George Mason, which was without starting center Greg Calixte, who sat out because of a lower-leg injury.
Dominick Welch and Lofton hit back-to-back 3-pointers less than five minutes into the second half – Lofton’s only points of the second half – which ignited a 23-4 run by Bona. The Bonnies’ second-half scoring rush came after George Mason (13-9, 2-7) hit six three-pointers in the first half and cut Bona’s lead just before halftime to 37-34 on Xavier Johnson’s 3-pointer with 1:46 left in the half.
But the Bonnies shifted to a zone defense in the second half, which sharply cut down George Mason’s scoring chances.
“We played zone, primarily, probably 75 percent of the time in the second half,” said Bona coach Mark Schmidt, whose team reached the halfway point of its Atlantic 10 schedule. “They got threes on our man-to-man (defense) and they were just going by us. We had a hard time keeping them in front. They’re a good one-on-one team, they go downhill and when they’re shooting the ball like that, (Jamal) Hartwell came off the bench and made four in the first half, it makes it difficult.
“But I thought our zone kept them in front, slowed it down a little bit. We got in the gaps and we did a good job.”
Then, Bona’s offense found its fuel, four minutes into the second half. Welch scored eight of his 14 points in the second half, and had eight rebounds in the second half, including six defensive rebounds.
The Cheektowaga product registered his second double-double in as many games, and was one of five players to score in double figures for the Bonnies, along with Lofton, Justin Winston (13 points), Osun Osunniyi (10 points) and Alejandro Vasquez (10 points).
“He’s being more aggressive,” Schmidt said of Welch. “He knows he needs to get into the gym, his jump shot is something he has to work through and he understands that. But he’s being more aggressive. He had 13 rebounds.
“He understands that’s an effective way to help his team win.”
Nearly two minutes after Jordan Miller's 3-pointer gave George Mason a 41-38 lead, Welch and Lofton’s back-to-back 3-pointers off a pair of turnovers by the Patriots gave the Bonnies a 44-41 lead, and helped the Bonnies open their lead to 61-45 with less than eight minutes left.
In that run, the Bonnies allowed George Mason only 10 shots, including only two successful shots from the floor: A.J. Wilson’s jump shot 5:05 into the second half and Jordan Miller’s layup with 10:40 left.
“In order to go on runs, you have to defend,” Schmidt said. “You have to take care of the basketball and you’ve got to run some good offense. I thought we’d get some offense off of our defense, but I thought our zone was really effective. Our guys did a really good job with the slides and getting to the shooters.
The Patriots finished 23 for 57 shooting, after going 13 for 27 in the second half. George Mason cut Bona’s lead to 69-62 with 1:01 left, after trailing by as many as 16 points in the second half, but Welch made five of six free throws in the final 47 seconds.
“It was just about getting stops,” said Javon Greene, who led George Mason with 17 points. “We let them get second-chance points and that’s what hurt us down the stretch. If we’d locked in and rebounded and took care of each possession, it would have been a different story. But Bona’s a good team, and they made us pay for every mistake we made.”