Bonnies fall short in NCAA first round

BLOOMINGTON, IN – MARCH 20: LSU Tigers takes on St. Bonaventure Bonnies in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament held at at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on March 20, 2021 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Grant Halverson/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

By CHUCKIE MAGGIO

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Kyle Lofton buried his face in an NCAA March Madness towel, unable to hide his disappointment. Jaren Holmes glanced up at the Assembly Hall ceiling, attempting to understand where the St. Bonaventure Bonnies fell short. The small contingent assembled at the arena clapped for the starters as they left the court, a show of appreciation for a season well played.

St. Bonaventure fell behind late in the first half of its NCAA Tournament first round matchup against Louisiana State at Indiana University’s Assembly Hall on Saturday afternoon and never caught up, falling 76-61. The Bonnies’ season concluded with a 16-5 record as the Tigers, behind star guard Cameron Thomas’s 27 points, advanced to Monday’s second round.

“We needed to play our ‘A’ game against LSU,” Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt remarked, “and we didn’t.”

SBU garnered the open looks it wanted, but even while seeing light defensive coverage, failed to make a 3-point shot in ten tries in the first half. The Bonnies missed 23 of 30 field goals over the first 20 minutes of play and finished the contest shooting 33.3 percent, including Lofton’s uncharacteristic 3-of-18 outing. The 3-point line wasn’t the only area they were deficient in, as they also missed 12 layups.

“We did what we were supposed to do,” Holmes assessed. “We got the shots we wanted. Every shot that we wanted, it just went in and out or we missed it. But ultimately those are shots we practice, and those are shots that we work hard at, and that we trust in each other to make.”

Bona’s conference championship lineup took a significant hit seven minutes in, when Dominick Welch suffered an ankle injury and missed 7:32. Although Schmidt did not use the moment of adversity as an excuse, he acknowledged that Welch was “at 50 percent.”

“Give Dom credit. He’s a really tough kid and he was hurting, as you saw,” Schmidt said. “Went back in to get re-taped and he was a shell of himself. They beat us on the backboard and Dom is one of our better rebounders, you know, can get the ball. He just couldn’t move.

“No excuses. Like I said, LSU, they beat us, but Dom wasn’t Dom. Early on, that little loose ball, he got twisted up, and he fought through it. And give Dom credit, he didn’t go to the bench, he didn’t make excuses, he just tried to fight through it, and that’s a part of the game. That’s a part of the game.”

Bonaventure’s defense kept the margin close before intermission, as LSU shot 10-of-28 from the field in the first half. The Tigers’ high-flying offense was grounded, scoring just 10 points over the first 10 minutes and entering halftime with a 31-22 lead, significantly shy of their season average.

But the start of the second half, always a point of emphasis Schmidt makes, did not go SBU’s way. The Tigers jumped out to a 12-5 run over the first 2:35 to extend their lead to 16, as four different LSU players scored baskets.

“LSU, they did a good job of really getting to the paint and hitting shots when we tried to double Watford and take the ball out of his hands,” Holmes assessed. “They had good shots, and they got a couple offensive rebounds. They were just getting easy looks. They were falling today for them, and they were hitting shots. So kudos to LSU.”

The Bonnies found a modicum of their 3-point stroke, with Welch and Jalen Adaway going back-to-back-to-back from deep as an answer to LSU’s surge. But they were always playing a game of catch-up to the Tiger offense.

Thomas had a 20-point second half and LSU outrebounded Bona 25-15 in the period. Bona scored 39 points after the break and only turned the ball over once in 33 possessions but allowed 45 points as a true, game-clenching run never came.

“He’s a pro,” Schmidt said of Thomas. “He’s a first round pick. He’s a good player. He’s going to be making millions of dollars one day. “You know, I thought we did a decent job in the first half, and I think he was 2-for-7. He had seven points. We fouled him too many times… so he does a good job of drawing fouls, and he hit a couple threes, deep ones, but he got off when we got to the foul line. Against good shooters or good scorers, you don’t want them to get to the foul line and give them cheap ones. Then they get their confidence and the rim starts looking a little bigger.

“But he’s a great talent and we’ll be watching him in the NBA one day, maybe next year.”

Holmes led the Bonnies with 18 points, while Osun Osunniyi compiled 15 points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked three shots. Adaway and Lofton also made double figures with 11 points and 10 points, respectively.

The loss left the SBU sideline devastated, but Schmidt did his best to put the defeat into perspective after a historic year that saw the Bonnies claim the Atlantic 10 regular season and league tournament titles.

“There’s only two teams in this country, maybe the CIT, three teams if there’s a CIT, that will end with a win,” Schmidt noted. “So everybody is going to feel like we do. Everybody but three teams. We got the 24-hour rule. Our guys are disappointed, they’re devastated. This is what they do. They put all their time, 6:00 a.m. every day, summer times and lifting weights and the stuff they went through with the pandemic.

“This was a really hard season. This wasn’t easy. Give all the credit to our players; they fought, and they’re really disappointed. It’s good that they’re disappointed; I’m disappointed. You put so much into it. If you’re not disappointed, there’s something wrong.”

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