MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — It was akin to the Rocky-Drago showdown at the end of Rocky IV.
In a matchup of teams battling for position in the Atlantic 10 standings, St. Bonaventure and Duquesne engaged in a wildly entertaining contest, one mirrored by an electric audience, which, for once, included a worthy Dukes contingent for the always-rambunctious Bona following.
Bona threw its punches and Duquesne answered. And vice-versa.
And when this heavyweight showdown had come to an end, it was the Bonnies who were left standing, securing their biggest win of the season.
Kyle Lofton scored 21 points, including the biggest shot in a game filled with momentous plays — a sideline 3-pointer that made it 80-77 with 1:14 remaining — to key Bona to a thrilling, and pivotal, 83-80 victory over Duquesne at Robert Morris’ brand-new UPMC Events Center on Saturday afternoon.
WITH AT least half of the announced crowd of 3,058 behind it, Bona (16-8, 8-3) secured its fourth-straight win and second this season over a Top 100 opponent. It moved past the Dukes for sole possession of third place in the standings, a half-game up on VCU and Richmond and now a full game on Duquesne.
Perhaps just as important, it provided yet another piece of evidence that maybe, just maybe, February is once again going to be the Bonnies’ month.
“It (was) a high-level game, high-level plays at both ends,” said coach Mark Schmidt, whose team doused him with the water cooler afterward. “The thing I was most proud of is, whenever they made something, we answered it. For a young team to be able to do that against a really good team shows that we’re growing.
“We’re not there yet. We still make mistakes. But we grew tonight, we got better today by playing a team of that caliber and having some success.”
FROM THE start, Bona made any number of big time buckets to withstand this most talented Dukes team in recent memory — big 3s from Lofton, who went a season-best 5-of-6 from distance, and Welch; an alley-oop slam from Osun Osunniyi; even a rim-rattling dunk from Amadi Ikpeze.
But just as it looked to be in the clear, when a Jaren English trey made it 77-68 with 5:33 remaining — it was forced to resist one final Duquesne push.
The Dukes (17-6, 7-4) embarked on a 9-0 run to tie it and had all the momentum following an impossible high-arcing floater from Sincere Carry that made it 77-all with 1:37 left. Bona, though, answered with Lofton’s 3 and a step-back from jumper from Welch to make 82-77 in the final 20 seconds.
And instead of giving it away, the Bonnies pulled out arguably their gutsiest victory of the winter.
“It was definitely fun,” Lofton said. “I just think that shows our character, our toughness, playing a good team away (from the Reilly Center) and just answering. Every punch they threw, we answered. A 9-0 run, to come down and hit that shot, it just shows our toughness and what we’re capable of in the future.”
FACING one of the A-10’s most aggressive defensive teams, Bona had one of its best days offensively of the season, shooting 49 percent, going 10-for-21 from 3-point range and falling only four points shy of a season high. In total, four players reached double figures, with Osunniyi adding 12 and nine rebounds, English 15 and Welch 14.
Said Lofton of the scoring outburst, “I saw an interview the other day Jaren said it; at any given moment, I can go off, Jaren can go off, Dom, ‘Shoon, we have guys that can score the ball.”
And on this day, it was the preseason all-conference point guard who shone brightest.
Prior to Lofton’s 3, Bona had gone over four minutes without a point, allowing the Dukes to roar back. But that one shot made up for that lull, bringing everything back into the Bonnies’ favor.
“They had all the momentum,” the sophomore guard acknowledged. “Fifteen seconds left on the shot clock, and before that, we weren’t really getting good shots. So (Schmidt) ran that play for me to come off a stagger(ed screen), I was open and I had hit four before that, and I was confident enough to knock it down.”
Said Schmidt, whose teams have won eight-straight and 11 of the last 12 in the series: “We made plays when we needed to make plays in a high-level atmosphere, high-level game.”
BONA’S playmaking was necessary to offset a torrid performance from 5-foot-8 guard Tavian Dunn-Martin, who poured in 25 points, including 7-of-15 from 3-point range, and had a spell where he made everything he threw up. It helped negate a handful of clutch plays from Carry in the later stages.
And for Schmidt’s team, now 29-7 in February since 2015-16, the payoff was massive.
Beating Rutgers on a neutral floor in November, when both teams were still finding themselves, was one thing. To take down a team that entered the day tied-for-third and was at a high point after hammering Saint Louis on the road three nights earlier, at their place, was quite another.
“I’ll take it,” the jubilant 13th-year coach said, before adding:
“We can’t get satisfied, we can’t get complacent. We’ve got to keep working at it. Hopefully this drives us to get into the gym and work harder. A game like this, you learn to win by winning. We won …
“We had a great crowd, which we really appreciate. (It was) a great college game, a great college environment. I’m glad we won.”