The St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team made the 1,354-mile trek to Boca Raton, Florida, to capture a tournament title.
The Bonnies are not only a win away from achieving that goal — which would give them their first in-season tournament crown since 2002 — they’re now one victory shy of moving to .500 for the first time this year and making it three in a row following a 1-4 start.
And they’ve begun to demonstrate their first true signs of gelling in the process.
After a tough 4-for-13 effort from the field, Kyle Lofton sank a big jumper to give Bona a five-point lead with 2:28 remaining and Dominick Welch drilled the game-clinching 3-pointer with 1:49 left as the Bonnies downed San Diego, 70-61, in the final opening-round matchup of the Boca Raton Beach Classic late Sunday night inside Florida Atlantic’s FAU Arena.
Bona (3-4) now owns back-to-back victories for the first time this season. It appeared to take another step in establishing a regular and consistent lineup; the primary group Sunday consisted of five sophomores, including Jaren English and Osun Osunniyi, who both entered the starting five one game after returning from injury.
Now, it has the chance to bring home some tournament hardware, and that comes tonight (8 o’clock, WPIG-FM, WHDL-AM, cusa-live stream) when the Bonnies meet host school FAU, which downed Illinois-Chicago in the other Hall of Fame Bracket semifinal, in the championship game.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” coach Mark Schmidt acknowledged afterward. “The young guys are going to be up-and-down. The veteran guys have to do what they need to do. I thought Kyle had a good floor game (5 assists to 4 turnovers, along with 11 points).
“But we’re getting better … we just need to continue to get better.”
Lofton’s late jumper and Welch’s 3-pointer helped Bona to pull away in what had largely been a one or two-possession game (there were five ties and seven lead changes) for most of the night.
But those were only two of the positives in a game where — aside from its first half against Rutgers — Bona may have seen its most bright spots yet.
On Sunday, that started with Osunniyi.
Five nights after recording a double-double in his first game back from an opening-night knee injury, the sophomore center was even better against the Toreros, recording 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting, 10 rebounds and six blocks, one shy of his career-high. Osunniyi made good on a couple of nice post moves, finished three buckets in which he also drew the foul and took a charge all while patrolling the paint with the same stifling nature that has made him one of the best shot-blockers in the country.
English again made his presence felt, collecting 12 points, including a crowd-pleasing breakaway slam, four rebounds and three steals while likely establishing himself as the regular third guard alongside Lofton and Welch.
Then, too, Bona had four players in double figures, including Welch, who finished with a team-high 16, including a 4-of-6 effort from distance, got seven big first-half points from freshman Alejandro Vasquez and received 24 quality minutes from Bobby Planutis, who grabbed six rebounds and provided four points.
Clinging to a 57-54 lead with five minutes remaining, the Bonnies went on an 11-2 run to seal it.