Red-hot Bonnies top UMass 74-61 in Roc City Classic

St. Bonaventure’s Jaren English (5) drives to the basket. 


ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Dominick Welch had the benefit of hindsight.

A day earlier, multiple members of the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team were asked if there was an added emphasis on getting past struggling UMass given the treacherous schedule ahead.

Of course, uninterested in providing the Minutemen with even the slightest of bulletin board material and given the fact that there are, indeed, few sure things in the Atlantic 10, they were diplomatic.

Even away from the Reilly Center, though, this was a “take care of business” kind of contest for the Bonnies.

They understood that. And they did just that.

Kyle Lofton led four double-digit scorers with 19 points and six assists and Bona never relinquished control in a 74-61 triumph before a crowd of 4,276 in the Alesco Advisors Classic on Wednesday night in Blue Cross Arena.

Yeah, Bona is now on the cusp of its most difficult 10-day stretch of the season, with games against arguably the three best teams in the conference: at VCU and No. 13 Dayton and home with Rhode Island.

No matter how that plays out, however, the following is true today: The Bonnies (12-5) are one of the hottest teams in the country, having won 11 of their last 12 games, the past three by 12, 20 and 13 points. They’re now 4-0 in A-10 play, tied for the best start in program history, alongside the 2015-16 and 1999-00 teams.

Two weeks into January, they’re beginning to look like the team that fans, and the media, envisioned in the preseason.

“We know the next three games we got are going to be tough games for us, so we just wanted to … I don’t want to say (these were) easy games, but get these games that we should win out of the way,” Welch acknowledged Wednesday. “And get ready for the next three because we know they’re going to be tough.”

On Wednesday, Bona won its seventh in a row in Blue Cross Arena and its eighth-straight over the Minutemen (7-10, 1-3). And it did so by doing a fantastic job against UMass’ press, limiting a hot-shooting team from distance and imposing itself, from the start, against an inferior opponent.

Largely unaffected by UMass’ pressure, the Bonnies -- whether by scoring in transition or executing in the halfcourt -- shot over 50 percent until well into the second half and had 60 points with 10:35 remaining before cooling down the stretch.

Bobby Planutis and Jaren English each had 12 points while Welch (3-for-5 from 3s) added 11 for Bona, which committed a season-low seven turnovers and went 9-for-19 from 3-point range.

Schmidt’s team held the Minutemen, who’d been averaging 71 points and shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc, to just 61 points and a 32 percent (7-of-22) clip from 3s. And it overcame foul trouble to both centers (Osun Osunniyi played just 21 minutes as a result) for another no-doubt victory.

“We did a really good job,” Schmidt said of his team’s showing against the UMass press. “Everybody they’ve played, they’ve turned over … I think teams are averaging almost 17 turnovers a game. Having a guy like Kyle handle the ball helps, but I thought our secondary ball-handlers did a good job.”

Of his team’s offensive performance as a whole, he added: “When we broke it … you have to decide when to go and when not to go. You can’t really teach that, that’s a feel. For the most part, we did a good job of attacking it and getting open shots and making a lot of those shots.”

On this night, Bona had a much better initial response to a pressing team than the last time it faced an early full-court defense, when it fell into a 19-4 hole a week earlier against George Mason.

It led by as many as 15 in the first half before bringing a seven-point advantage into the break. Up 47-41 early in the second half, it embarked upon a 14-2 run, highlighted by an Osunniyi alley-oop dunk from Planutis, a Planutis breakaway slam and treys from Lofton and Welch, to seal the outcome.

“We stayed poised Lofton said. “We weren’t rushing anything. Once we broke the press, we slowed it down, ran sets instead, whereas (against) George Mason, we seemed to rush shots, so we just took it easy and stay poised.”

In the end, the Bonnies checked almost every box needed for an easy victory. The only thing they couldn’t do was stop standout freshman forward Tre Mitchell, who poured in 28 points on 11-of-19 shooting, mostly on a series of soft moves around the basket.

The four-star recruit, though, did a lot of his damage in the final 10 minutes of the first half, with Osunniyi, a prep school rival, on the bench. And despite that superb individual effort, Bona managed to build the lead to as many 19 with 10:35 remaining.

“We knew that they weren’t great on defense,” said Lofton, when asked about the Minutemen’s 13th-ranked scoring ‘D’. “The mindset was, just be aggressive, keep everything down hill. As you get downhill, things open up for the shooters, and that was pretty much our game.”