BY TYLER SMITH, SPORTS DIRECTOR.
NEW YORK, NY – After traveling over 6,000 miles and defeating Colorado, Oklahoma and Virginia, St. Bonaventure reached its destination of Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Bonnies advanced past three Power 5 programs, attempting to enact revenge from their early Atlantic 10 Tournament loss to Saint Louis.
Tuesday night, they stepped under the bright Manhattan lights to play a Xavier Musketeer team that – in the Big East – knew the territory well. After slipping down the stretch and also exiting its conference tournament prematurely, Xavier played arguably its best game in months, sending the Bonnies home in a hot-shooting 84-77 victory.
A lot went wrong for the St. Bonaventure, but more went right for the Musketeers. Here’s two things we saw and two things we learned from what might have been the final game with the Ironman Five intact.
What we saw:
The Bonnies got annihilated on the glass
Xavier outrebounded St. Bonaventure, 38-28, but that metric does not tell the whole story.
Not only were the Bonnies outrebounded on the defensive end, but they allowed 14 offensuve boards, resulting in too many second-chance points to count. The frontcourt duo of Jack Nunge (7’0) and Zach Freemantle (6’9) dominated the paint for most of the night, shooting a combined 15-for-19 from the field and grabbing 14 rebounds. Many of Nunge’s simplest buckets came after a Musketeer offensive rebound.
“We stopped the first shot, and they got rebound after rebound. And there was one play where they got three in a row, and then the big guy got a lay-up. So really just not rebounding really hurt us in the first half,” senior guard Kyle Lofton said.
Bona big man Osun Osunniyi could only muster three rebounds throughout 36 minutes of play. I understand his positioning at the top of the key, as well as the wings being able to crash the boards and secure the basketball. Three rebounds from your physically gifted center won’t cut it.
Plain and simple: a major factor in the loss was the Bonnies’ lack of aggression on the glass. Get more possesions: win the game. Xavier did just that.
Dom Welch: The Human Torch
I’m not going to be the “Negative Nancy” of Bona press for the entirety of this piece, althogub part of me wants to be.
However, the Tuesday’s performance by Dominick Welch cannot be overstated.
The senior sharpshooter connected on seven of his 10 three-point attmepts in what might have been the most on-point offensive game of his four-year career. Welch opened his scoring effort with a triple accompanied by three shot fakes before launching it through the net.
“The ball was coming to me, I was feeling good and I was knocking shots down tonight,” Welch said postgame.
The Bonnies trailed by double digits for much of the second half, but whenever they would make a mini run to claw back into the game, No. 1 would be the senior to put the offense on his shoulders.
After beginning his collegiate postseason one borough over at the Barclays Center, he may have finished his last in the World’s Most Famous Arena – and he relished the experience.
“This is pretty much a dream come true for me today, and just playing in MSG, really the mecca of basketball,” Welch said.
What we learned:
Bona Nation is the most insane fanbase in college basketball – and that’s a good thing
Talk about a crowd.
As my good friend Tom Seipp referenced in his latest article for TAPinto Greater Olean, Madison Square Garden became “Reilly Center East,” Tuesday night.
Bona faifthul traveled in droves to see their beloved basketball team play its latest game on the calendar in program history. The Snapchat “Snap Map” depicted a trail of hundreds of Bonaventure student avatars making their way down to New York City. I heard flights from Buffalo were packed with Bona fans, and two alumni pregame bars sold out in hours. Student buses broke down but (most of them) still made it in time for tipoff.
I mean, come on, Bona cheerleaders were on the Today show Tuesday morning for an NIT game.
For a university with the low student population it has, it’s hard to describe the unity that this sport brings to quite literally anyone who has ever donned the Brown and White.
After Kyle Lofton fouled out of the game with few seconds remaining and the game in hand, he reflected on what the fans have meant to him after receiving a standing ovation on his way to the bench.
“And it just means a lot. Being here for four years, these guys have turned into my family, and the fan base, they show love, and I appreciate them for that.”
The postgame presser left no indication of completed careers
In what many have already pegged as the “Ironman Five” seniors’ final season in Brown and White, I, personally expected a somber mood when Welch, Lofton and Schmidt appeared in front of the media following the loss.
Lofton and Welch could be seen chuckling at times and gazing at the stat sheet – likely Welch’s shooting stats and Lofton’s assist numbers (11) – in the postgame media conference. That doesn’t seem to me like a duo of guys who have played four years together – and just shared the court for the final time.
Not one question was asked about a potential return for one more season in the Reilly Center, but not one comment was made by either player or Schmidt through their entire availability. Rumors will circulate around the possibility until each player makes his individual decision. Only time will tell.
I have been on the side of all five starters departing after the school year’s end, but at this point, their actions and visible emotions after a postseason loss don’t tell me this journey is over.
And what a journey it has been, but it could be far from over.