ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — They had nearly made it to the locker room after this latest monumental victory when members of the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team beelined back to the court.
They noticed that one of the NBC cameramen still had his lens trained on them.
And so the Bonnies, led by the likes of Jaren Holmes and Kyle Lofton, came back out and danced.
They certainly deserved to.
In a game that needed to be won for the purposes of their at-large resume, Holmes and Lofton made sure that it happened, and they did so by getting the better of Davidson at its own game.
Holmes had a double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds, adding a 5-of-7 effort from deep. Lofton had 18 points and six assists, adding a 3-of-5 mark from distance. And behind that collective hot hand, Bona pulled out a convincing, case-building triumph over the Wildcats, 69-58, on Sunday afternoon inside the Reilly Center.
FOR THE Bonnies (11-3, 9-3), sitting firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble and having to face the Wildcats again on Wednesday at Belk Arena, the outcome was significant. They moved back into a tie (with VCU) for first in the Atlantic 10 standings. It nabbed another Quadrant 1/2 win, moving its record to 6-3 in such contests. It vaulted back into the low 40s in both the NET and KenPom rankings.
And clearly, while embarking upon a game-changing 20-9 run midway through the second half, they enjoyed themselves along the way.
But for as much fun as it was, their message after the fact was clear:
“I think the vibe right now is: we’re not done. (It’s) unfinished business,” Holmes said. “We gotta take care of this last week, especially, and it’s one game and we’re on to the next one. We celebrated it, five minutes to the camera and now we’re locked in again for Wednesday.
“We’re going to celebrate and it’s right back to it.”
To Schmidt, Sunday’s triumph was born from two particular factors: Bona crushed the league’s No. 2 rebounding team (in terms of margin) on the boards, 39-25. And it did a good job defensively against a Davidson group (11-6, 6-3) that had its way against Bona last year in the RC, holding it to 58 points (despite 13 3-pointers, including six from Hyunjung Lee) on 39.6 percent shooting.
Just as critical, though, was its offensive explosion over the final 20 minutes.
HOLMES drilled a 3-pointer with 13:53 remaining to give the Bonnies a two-possession lead (44-38) and jumpstart that big run. That was part of a stretch in which he and Lofton tallied 18-straight points for Bona, all on 3-pointers, each one bigger and more bench-pleasing than the next.
Locked into a tight, back-and-forth affair, Bona needed someone to step up and provide some separation. It ended up finding two guys: Holmes and Lofton, who combined to go 7-of-7 from deep after the break, helping the Bonnies turn a three-point game into a 12-point cushion (64-52) with 5:25 remaining.
For the half, Bona shot 58 percent from the floor, including 9-of-11 from 3-point range.
“They’re a joy to coach, they hit big shots,” Schmidt said of his two guards. “They deserve to have success because they’re always in the gym working. At times, they haven’t shot the ball well from the perimeter, but they didn’t stop working and they deserve to have those shots go down.”
He added, “And it came in key moments. You can go 9-of-11 sitting in the gym by yourself, but to go 9-of-11 in this type of environment, against this type of team, says a lot about our players.”
For Bona, there was, of course, some adversity to overcome.
It played for stretches of the first half without both Osun Osunniyi (foul trouble) and Dominick Welch (tweaked ankle). It committed five turnovers over the first five minutes, but finished with just eight. It was stagnant offensively, scoring just four points over the final 6:28 of the first half (on a pair of Osunniyi buckets in the final minute).
And still, it brought a 28-26 lead into the break.
IT ROSE above those issues with a strong defensive effort, keeping the Wildcats off the break and mostly limiting it to one shot, and by its own Davidson-like hot stretch at a pivotal point. And if there was any lingering doubt, Welch (9 points on three treys) ended it with 2:01 remaining, connecting on – what else? – a big corner 3-pointer to make it 69-57.
“Part of that was we were able to get the ball moving,” Lofton said of the Bonnies’ second-half surge. “First half, we had the ball, it was sticking. We had no motion, nobody was swinging the ball. In the second half, we did a better job of playing inside-out. We threw it into ‘Shoon, he made some good passes. We had some good screens on the backside, and then (it was) just finding each other and having confidence.”
In topping Davidson, Bona both snapped a four-game skid against the Wildcats and picked up another Top-100 triumph (it now has four such victories and no bad losses to its resume).
It gave itself some momentum heading into Wednesday’s rematch, which makes for one last all-important Quad 1 opportunity (at the moment), with this one being on the road. And once again under Schmidt, in this late February timeframe … it’s playing for something big down the stretch.
“Our guys have put themselves in a situation where these games are really important,” the 14th-year coach noted. “There are some teams in the country that can’t wait until the season’s over because they’re not playing for anything. Our guys have done a great job with the pandemic, the mental and physical stress everybody is under. And now, we’re going to try to finish it.”