Bona displays promise, need for improvement after exhibition victory

St. Bonaventure's Bobby Planutis (10) rises to put in a basket in front of Alfred's Jeremiah Zitz (24) during the first half of an exhibition men's basketball game Wednesday at the Reilly Center.

ST. BONAVENTURE — Mark Schmidt provided the perfect summation of the first 20 minutes of his team’s exhibition game Wednesday night.

“This is not streetball,” the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball coach said in his postgame radio comments, referring to his host of first-year players. “This is St. Bonaventure basketball. There’s rules, there’s a system.

“They’re wild, and sometimes they think it’s AAU ball. But we’re a work in progress.”

Yes, the Bonnies, and their young players in particular, were a little skittish, slightly out of sorts in the first half of their 90-45 triumph over Division III Alfred inside the Reilly Center. The result was an erratic performance that manifested in the following numbers: eight turnovers, an 0-for-11 mark from 3-point range, just 26 points at the under-4 media timeout against a far inferior opponent.

But that was to be at least partially expected, considering the following:

-- Five of the 10 scholarship players that took the floor were seeing their first organized action in a Bona uniform, and a sixth, sophomore Alpha Okoli, received limited action in conference play last year.

-- Bona is still in the process of mixing and matching lineups, meaning most guys are still getting used to playing with one another. On Wednesday, Amadi Ikpeze and freshman AJ Vasquez got the starting nod while Osun Osunniyi, a preseason all-conference selection, and Matt Johnson, the team’s only junior, came off the bench.

-- This was the first time that these Bonnies, comprised of 10 first- or second-year players and just one senior, had played publicly -- “with the lights on,” as Schmidt likes to say, and, admittedly, there were nerves.

The larger takeaway, however, is that the new faces DID eventually settle in, and behind them, Bona outscored the Saxons 56-24 over the final 20 minutes to turn a slapdash effort into a standard exhibition blowout.

And when you peeled back the layers that come with such a contest -- the excitability, the rust, the playing down to the competition level -- you could see: There’s certainly potential among the new crop.

BOBBY Planutis, who, fair or not, bears perhaps the highest expectations among the six new faces due to his numbers as a freshman at Mount St. Mary’s and the growing hype during his year off, shook off an early turnover and missed 3 to make 5-of-7 shots and finish with 11 points. If he does, indeed, start at the ‘4’ in the season-opener, the way he did Wednesday, you know that in Schmidt’s eyes, the ability is there.

Vasquez displayed an impressive shooting stroke and looked both comfortable and smooth enough to be the next Bona freshman to earn major minutes from the get-go. Robert Carpenter, a 6-foot-8 forward, also showed some range, knocking down two jumpers from near the top of the key en route to 10 points.

He, Johnson, who figures to give the Bonnies a much-needed second ball-handler with his game-high eight assists, and Planutis all added head-turning fastbreak dunks to their strong outings.

Most important, they all eventually looked as if they had at least a grasp of Schmidt’s system. And that will be the biggest determining factor in how quickly Bona can go from a collection of talent to an upper-echelon team in the Atlantic 10.

“THERE’S SOME good things that we did, some bad things that we did, some things we need to improve on,” Schmidt acknowledged afterward. “There were some butterflies as you saw early in the game -- not just with the young guys, but with the veterans.

“As the game went along, I thought our offense got better. I think we have a decent shooting team, and we shot better in the second half … but hopefully the guys got comfortable and now we’ll go back to work and get ready for the season and get ready for Ohio."

Bona has a difficult first week, taking on both the Bobcats, a traditionally strong MAC team, and Vermont, one of the top mid-major programs in the country, which has noted Bona-killer and NBA prospect Anthony Lamb back for his senior year … though both games are at home.

But for as tough as it might be, it should also provide a strong early indication for where these young players truly stand, and how much growing they still need to do before they can be counted on in league play.

Schmidt indicated Wednesday that “two to three” of those new faces could be on the cusp of helping the Bonnies sooner rather than later. It’s certainly the hope, and the need, if they’re going to fare well against a challenging, yet inviting, non-conference slate.

The question is: How long will it take for such a youthful and new-look team to come together as a whole?

(J.P. Butler, Bradford Publishing group sports editor, can be reached at jbutler@oleantimesherald.com)

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