BUFFALO — For all its flaws that were once again on display, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team had multiple chances to still somehow come away with a win.
Trailing 56-54 with just over 30 seconds remaining, Kyle Lofton drove hard to his left, but was whistled for a controversial charge after making contact with Malik Johnson. Down three with 15 ticks left, Alejandro Vasquez drew a foul on a 3-point attempt in the corner, but missed the first two free throws.
Yes, unlike in their first three losses, the Bonnies were still very much alive after whittling a 10-point deficit to two in the final minutes.
But this wasn’t so much about missed opportunities as it was the following:
Being outworked by a hungrier Canisius team.
A backslide offensively.
A lack of contributors in the scoring column.
Bona was bitten by all of that in its 100th-season matchup against its oldest rival on Saturday inside KeyBank Center. The result was a 61-57 loss to the Golden Griffins — a bitter setback in their beautiful throwback uniforms — before 3,821 observers.
For the Bonnies (1-4), it largely came down to this: They were dominated on the glass, 40-24, and surrendered 16 offensive rebounds, allowing Canisius to hold a 16-7 edge in second chance points. This came against a Griffs team that entered the game second-to-last nationally in rebounding margin.
“GOING INTO this game, that was one of their weaknesses that they had,” coach Mark Schmidt noted, “ … but they just did a terrific job (on the backboard). Every time we got a stop, it just seemed like (Jacco Fritz, 7 offensive boards) or one of those guys got an offensive rebound and had a putback.
“Physically, we got manhandled in the paint.”
Aside from the rebounds, Canisius (2-2) also came away with the majority of loose balls and long misses. The biggest came with 3:02 remaining when Johnson’s missed 3 was tipped deep into the Bona end, leading to a mad scramble for the rebound. Johnson came up with it and found Majesty Brandon, who was fouled.
Instead of potentially making it a one-possession game, Bona fell behind on the ensuing free throws, 54-47.
Said Schmidt, “It really comes down to, you can coach their zone (defense) and you can coach how to guard their stuff, but when the ball goes up, there’s not much coaching going on. It’s like, you’ve got to go. There’s no name on it, you’ve got to go get it, and they did a really good job of getting it.”
THE BONNIES held an early 9-3 lead and went up 27-25 on a Dominick Welch dunk with four minutes remaining in the first half, but were ultimately hampered by the same scoring struggles that characterized an 0-3 start.
Bona went scoreless over those final four minutes, allowing the Griffs to bring a 35-27 lead into the break. It shot a woeful 3-of-12 from the perimeter. A pair of players who were expected to be key contributors in the preseason — Bobby Planutis and Matt Johnson — combined for just two points.
One week after hanging 80 points on a defensive-minded Big Ten team, Bona failed to crack 60 for the third time in five games.
“We’ve got freshmen (playing key roles),” said Schmidt, when asked if he was surprised about that backslide after showing marked improvement last week against Rutgers. “Sometimes they’re going to do it, sometimes they don’t, and today they didn’t. If you hold a team to 61 points, you should have a chance to win. Physically, they took it to us; to me, that was the difference.”
He added of his team’s showing collectively: “Offensively, we were really bad. We got to the foul line, which was good, we just couldn’t get anything going offensively; nothing inside. We weren’t pushing the ball, we never got any easy baskets.”
LOFTON scored a game-high 18 points and hit a couple of big shots in the waning minutes to bring the Bonnies back in it. Justin Winston was their only other double-digit scorer with 14 points.
Johnson finished with 15 while Fritz had a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Golden Griffins, whose effort allowed them to overcome 21 turnovers and a 5-of-16 afternoon from 3-point range.
And though Bona came within a dubious charge call of potentially tying it with 34 seconds left, it had to leave the Buffalo Sabres’ home with the following realities: A 1-4 start for a second consecutive year; a loss to what was perceived to be an inferior opponent; that it was out-efforted by a rival.
“We played hard, probably the whole game,” Johnson said. “There were loose balls out there, and we didn’t think they weren’t our balls. We dove on the floor for them. There wasn’t an offensive rebound that we didn’t think was ours.”
Added Johnson of the charge call, where he appeared to be sliding sideways with Lofton when the contact was made: “They were running that rub-action play; Winston wasn’t really setting the screen, so I knew (Lofton) was trying to get downhill. I knew if I beat him to the spot, took it in my chest, most likely it was going to be a charge.
“So I kind of read that play and baited him into it, and when that happened, we just got the call.”
Said Schmidt, who fell to 8-5 against Canisius as coach at Bona, of the controversial play: “It’s hard for me to say until we watch the tape.”