By CHUCKIE MAGGIO
ST. BONAVENTURE — Osun Osunniyi walked slowly to his seat postgame to begrudgingly answer questions about one of St. Bonaventure’s most disappointing losses of the season.
The Bonnies’ loss to Duquesne, no matter how many March-like moments it produced, was lamented for the small mistakes that proved to be significant.
Osunniyi, as stellar as he played with a career-high 23 points along with 13 rebounds, didn’t know what defense the Bonnies were playing on one possession, which led to an easy Dukes basket. Sophomore Bobby Planutis stepped out of bounds on three occasions, turning the ball over. Kyle Lofton committed five turnovers, including a cross-court pass that missed the mark and landed next to the Duquesne bench. The Bonnies missed seven free throws.
Each of these miscues contributed to an 81-77 overtime score at the Reilly Center that dropped St. Bonaventure to 18-10, 10-5 in the Atlantic 10. Bona missed an opportunity to sweep the regular season series and now finds itself just one game ahead of the 9-6 Dukes in the conference standings.
“Let one slip away,” Osunniyi remarked. “Lot of mistakes… it’s just the little things. They out-toughed us in the first half, we tried to play harder in the second half but when you play a good team like that, you can’t have mental lapses like that and make soft plays.”
Though they did not shoot well, the Dukes controlled the first half, leading by as much as nine and holding a 35-28 advantage at halftime. Bona was outscored 22-14 in the paint, outrebounded 25-22 and shot just 35.5 percent (11-of-31) from the floor. Dominick Welch had a tough 1-for-6 start from the floor, which continued throughout the game as he missed 14 of his 17 shots despite grabbing 14 rebounds.
Duquesne led for 14:51 of the 20 first half minutes. Michael Hughes scored eight points in the period, establishing the inside game early.
Ten of Duquesne’s 25 rebounds in the first half were offensive boards, which led to 10 second chance points.
“I thought Duquesne got off to a better start,” Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt assessed. “Had more energy, it looked like. They were quicker to the ball in the first half.”
Whatever Schmidt told his team at halftime worked wonders for the first two and a half minutes of the second half. Bona jumped on an 11-3 run capped off by an Osunniyi slam off a Welch assist that drew a timeout from Dukes coach Keith Dambrot and injected life into a previously reserved arena.
From that point on, the game resembled the first meeting in Moon Township. The lead changed three times, the contest was tied twice, and the margin did not exceed two possessions for the last eight minutes of regulation.
The night nearly took a turn for the worse with 4:44 left, when Lofton went down on a defensive possession, writhing in pain. Lofton eased Bona fans’ concerns when he re-entered at the 1:56 mark with Bonaventure holding onto a 66-63 edge.
A few minutes earlier, Lofton was having his ankle taped on the trainers’ table behind the Bona bench. As he often does in tense situations, he assumed the role of go-to shot maker when he checked back in.
Lofton pulled up for a goaltended jumper on Bonaventure’s next offensive trip and answered Sincere Carry’s driving layup with one of his own to put the Bonnies up 70-67 with 39 seconds remaining. Hughes matched the layup by burying a hook shot for two of his 18 points, whittling the margin to one, 70-69. Needing to foul, Carry fouled Lofton at the 23-second mark; Lofton made just one.
Carry dribbled the baseline in search of the game-tying basket and found a trip to the free throw line instead as English was charged with a foul. Carry made both, giving Bona the ball at the 13-second mark.
Lofton had just hit the go-ahead shot on Feb. 8 against Duquesne; he also had a game-winner against La Salle last season. This time, he’d have two chances to make the big shot.
In regulation, the sophomore handled the ball the full length of the court, received a screen from Osunniyi and took a floater near the foul line. The ball found both corners of the rim but did not go down. Osunniyi’s putback attempt was also shy of the mark.
In overtime, despite the out of bounds turnover and a Baylee Steele three-pointer for Duquesne, the Bonnies rebounded a missed foul shot with 20 seconds left, down two, with a chance to force double overtime. Bona ran the same play, but the lane was blocked off so Lofton passed the ball to Winston and got it right back. He got a clearer look at the basket than he even had at the end of regulation, but lost the ball as he was attempting a close-range shot.
All Carry had to do was make his free throws after Lofton’s miss and subsequent foul; Carry made both as part of an 18-point night.
Lofton scored 14 points, while Jaren English had 15 and Welch chipped in 10. Most people knew Lofton was getting the ball.
“Drive the ball, pull up, put the ball in your best guy’s hands and make a play,” Schmidt said of the would-be game-winner and game-saver.
His team was a play short.