Its latest setback had a “Hoosiers”-like feel to it.
Much like the Hickory High team that Norman Dale inherits on his first day as coach, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team had just seven scholarship players available for its second-round matchup in the Cayman Islands Classic.
As shorthanded as it’s ever been under coach Mark Schmidt, it was another couple injuries and a foul out from Schmidt having to utter Dale’s famous line from the 1986 classic, “my team is on the floor.”
Unlike the movie, however, this performance had no happy ending.
Bona, now without freshman Dominick Welch, who is sidelined with a bruised left foot, managed to hang with Boise State for a half on Tuesday. But a 21-0 run to start the second half and a barrage of 3-pointers were its undoing in a 72-52 loss to the Broncos in John Gray Gymnasium at Georgetown, Grand Cayman.
Given the huge success of the last few seasons, this has become unfamiliar terrain for the Bonnies (1-4) and their fans:
Tuesday marked their first 20-plus point loss since a 69-46 defeat to George Washington in February of 2015. They’re now three games under .500 for the first time since sitting at 11-14 in February of 2010.
Bona, on the heels of a nationally recognized campaign last year, committed to the second annual Cayman Islands event with the idea that it would compete for a title and represent itself well on another big stage.
Its injuries and youth, however, have made that virtually impossible.
With one game remaining, this three-day event has instead become something merely to survive. The Bonnies will meet Akron, which has dropped close games to both No. 16 Clemson (72-69) and Illinois State (73-68), today in the seventh-place contest at 11 a.m. (WPIG-FM, WHDL-AM, Stadium Facebook-live stream).
“We battled in the first half with the seven guys that we had,” Schmidt said afterward. “I thought we scrapped. It’s really hard for us to get some offense. We had two assists in the first half; it’s just hard for us to create good offense.
“We fought, it’s just right now we don’t have enough under the hood.”
In another game against a far more experienced team — a Boise State group that possessed skill and size and won 23 games last year with a trip to the NIT — the numbers were unsightly.
Bona shot just 32 percent and was outrebounded, 35-20. It managed only five assists on 17 baskets. It received just 10 total points outside of its two leading scorers: Jalen Poyser and Kyle Lofton, who went for 22 and 20 points, respectively.
Despite how bad it ultimately got, however, this was a game at halftime.
Lofton got the Bonnies going early, scoring 10 of their first 16 points, and Poyser finished a four-point play to suddenly narrow the lead to two possessions (28-24) just before the break. Even with a clear lack of offense, Bona hung tough due in large part to 13 first-half turnovers from Boise State.
And then, very quickly, the Broncos (2-2) made it a blowout.
Derrick Alston, who had 22 points and finished 6-for-7 from 3-point range, started the run with a 3-pointer. Justinian Jessup, who totaled 19 points (4-for-10 from 3s) knocked down a trio from deep in that stretch.
In the first seven minutes of the second half, Boise State shot 8-for-11 and made five 3-pointers. Bona went 0-for-9, including three total missed layups by Lofton and Amadi Ikpeze. Twenty-one straight points later, the Broncos held a 51-24 advantage and Bona reached its low point of the young season with four players, including seniors Courtney Stockard and LaDarien Griffin, watching from the bench.
“Boise State hit some shots and put us on our heels,” Schmidt said. “I tell the guys all the time, the first five minutes of the second half, the first 10 possessions, are critical. They came out, put us on our heels.”
The Bonnies’ lack of depth was a likely factor in a hot shooting night for the Broncos, who shot a blistering 13-of-24 (54 percent) from 3-point range.
“Because of our numbers we have to play more zone than we want to,” Schmidt said. “It’s just … there’s a lot of things. But yeah, they made shots. And when they’re making shots against our zone, it’s hard.”
Even down their two best players after the Bucknell opener, Bona and their fans might not quite have expected this: being outscored by an average of 15 points in their first two tournament games, trying to avoid a last-place finish. Boise State had the game wrapped up so early that the broadcast team felt compelled to discuss its favorite basketball movies for virtually the entire second half.
A second loss in the Caymans left Bona with exactly 15 hours to prepare for Akron, which sits at 3-2 overall and a respectable No. 145 in the KenPom rankings, making for three straight top 150 opponents for the Bonnies.
The Zips, of the Mid-American Conference, are led by 5-foot-8 guard Loren Christian Jackson, who has averaged 16 points and three assists in the early going.
“(We’ve got a) quick turnaround,” Schmidt acknowledged. “We’ll go back, hydrate, watch tape as a coaching staff, (have an) early morning, and get back here and hopefully we can get a win.”