ST. BONAVENTURE — It was supposed to be the first win of many for a young, but talented St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team.

It was billed as the start of something special for a new-look group eager to begin making its mark. It was meant to be a celebration, the beginning to a Centennial Season in which the program will be as mindful of its past as it is hopeful for the future.

Instead, in many ways, it was a nightmare.

Bona, and its star players specifically, had a miserable outing offensively. Preseason All-Conference center Osun Osunniyi left the game with a knee injury early in the second half and never returned.

And rather than an expected 1-0 start, there was this: the sight of a stunned crowd beginning to file out of the Reilly Center with 3:20 still left on the clock.

The Bonnies fell into an early hole, one that was only made bigger after halftime by an inadequate zone offense and an inability to stop an Ohio team more poised and skilled than anyone might have expected. The result was an ugly 65-53 season-opening loss before 4,305 observers on Tuesday night.

“I THOUGHT we played hard, I thought we played decent defensively at times,” coach Mark Schmidt said afterward, “we just couldn’t finish. They would get some buckets at the end of the shot clock or an offensive rebound, and then their zone really affected us. We didn’t attack it well; we weren’t aggressive.”

On a night where it began as 12-point home favorites, Bona’s issues ran deep.

It shot 3-for-19 from 3-point range and committed 16 turnovers. It failed to control Ohio guards Jason Preston, who racked up an impressive 11 points and 13 assists, and Jordan Dartis, who had a game-high 19 points. It surrendered a flurry of early 3-pointers that set the tone.

Some of that was to be expected given the youth — it started two first-year players in freshman AJ Vasquez and transfer Bobby Planutis, with five of 10 players making their Bona debut. What nobody in the building would have anticipated was this: lead guards Kyle Lofton and Dominick Welch, who finished last season so strongly, shooting a combined 5-for-23 with five turnovers.

“It’s (tough),” Schmidt acknowledged. “Your better players have to play well and those guys struggled tonight. They’re good players, we have a lot of faith in them, but they didn’t play well. When they don’t play well, it’s hard for us to score.”

DESPITE AN unsightly first half, Bona went into the break down just five (30-25) at halftime and scored six-straight points to pull to within two with 17:16 remaining and force an Ohio timeout.

This is where fans, and the team, might have expected a turning point to surface.

But it never did.

The Bobcats, with just two seniors and 11 freshmen and sophomores, and playing their first game under new coach Jeff Boals, responded with a 9-0 run to take a double-digit lead. They led by at least six and pushed the advantage to as many as 16 the rest of the way.

And the larger the lead the grew, the more deflated the young Bonnies appeared to be, a sight that was only magnified by the departure of Osunniyi, whose injury (the extent of which is unclear) seemed more serious than in real time as he limped off slowly with the help of two trainers at the 15:49 mark of the second half.

In the end, it was too much for a youthful team to conquer.

“We were down four, and we had the ball and we turned it over,” Schmidt said, referring to a sequence early in the period. “They come down and they hit a 3. It’s never good to be young, but that’s the way it is and we’ve got to overcome that.

“We’ve got to go back to the drawing board. Hopefully, this is a wake-up call and hopefully it shows the young guys what D-I basketball is all about. It’s really their first (time) playing, so hopefully it’s a learning experience and we go back and understand we need to work harder.”

Vasquez had a team-best 12 points in his debut, but needed 11 shots to get there. Planutis had a solid first game, going for eight points and 10 rebounds, and brought plenty of energy, which manifested in an impressive two-handed breakaway slam and six offensive boards.

But he, too, struggled from the floor, finishing 2-for-6 and missing his two looks from the perimeter.

Given the circumstances — an amped up season-opening crowd, a team hungry to pick up where it left off last season, an opponent that wasn’t supposed to be ready for this kind of contest — it was difficult to envision a loss.

Bona not only lost, however, it made any number of miscues while being soundly outplayed by — on this night, anyway — a better team.

And suddenly, it’s dropped three-straight home openers after taking 48 of the first 50 in the RC’s history.

“I don’t think anybody played well,” Schmidt was willing to admit. “I don’t think anyone played up to their capabilities. We all need to get better.

“We played hard at times, but we couldn’t finish … but when you lose by 12 at home, there’s not too many positives.”

(Salamanca Press sports editor Sam Wilson may be contacted at swilson@oleantimesherald.com)

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