ST. BONAVENTURE — Dominick Welch had seemingly put it out of reach nearly nine minutes earlier.
Midway through the second half, the sophomore guard collected a pass from Osun Osunniyi and buried a corner 3-pointer to push a 10-point lead, where it had sat for much of the night, to 13.
Welch’s shot brought a sold-out crowd of 5,480 to its feet and drew a timeout from Richmond coach Chris Mooney. It was followed by a Bobby Planutis trey that made it 62-46 with 8:18 remaining.
It wasn’t until Welch and teammate Jaren English made a couple of big free throws in the last minute, however, that the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team and its fans could celebrate this latest biggest win of the season.
But celebrate they did.
Welch recorded another double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds and Bona went 6-for-6 at the line in the final 30 seconds to stifle a Richmond rally and pull out a crucial 75-71 triumph inside the Reilly Center on Saturday night.
HOW important was this one for the Bonnies? You can count the ways.
Bona (18-9, 10-4) pulled even with the Spiders (20-7, 10-4) for third place in the Atlantic 10 standings and garnered the all-important head-to-head tiebreaker in the process. It now sits a full two games ahead of a trio of teams for at least the No. 4 spot, pushing its chances of securing a double-bye to 94 percent based on its remaining schedule.
Perhaps just as important, it responded to its worst loss of the season in splendid fashion, jumping out to a big lead, maintaining it until the final minute and keeping its composure in the face of adversity.
“We had a good bounce-back game,” coach Mark Schmidt said. “We didn’t play well the last time we were out. They were challenged. Our guys, we’ve got competitors, and I thought we answered the bell.
“They came out, they played with energy, and they didn’t fold … we stuck together.”
Said Osunniyi, who totaled 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting and helped limit center Grant Golden, the focal point of Richmond’s offense, to a quiet 13 points: “It was a great response. We didn’t play like we should have against Davidson. How we came out was good, how we responded to their big shots (at the end) was good.
“Coming down the stretch in conference, you want to take care of business whenever you can.”
STILL UP 69-59 with 50 seconds remaining, Bona appeared to have nailed down its second win over a top 50 opponent on the season.
On the heels of a Golden trey, two 3s from Francis (23 points) and a questionable intentional foul call on Planutis, which led to four quick points, Richmond rallied to make it 69-66 and then 71-69 with 16 ticks left.
With the outcome back in question, and the tension rising inside the RC, Bona calmly sank all six of its free throw attempts — with Jaren English (team-high 17 points) netting four and Welch two — to stay ahead until the final buzzer.
And that ensured one other carrot for the Bonnies: They pushed their A-10-best streak of consecutive 10-plus win seasons to six-straight.
“Those are big,” Schmidt said of his team’s clutch free throws. “That’s what you need to do to finish the game. You try to put them in situations in practice to try simulate (that), but it’s hard to simulate. It just takes being in the gym, having a lot of confidence, mental toughness and knocking them down.”
Said Welch, whose freebies took a 71-69 game back to two possessions, “(It was) just knowing my team needs them; the situation we’re in, I’ve got to make these. I split free throws earlier in the game. I was like, ‘I need to make these, I just have to knock them down for the team.’”
FACING A team that boasts both a playmaking center and three double-digit scoring guards, Bona chose to put its primary focus into containing the frontcourt duo of Golden and Nathan Cayo.
And, in double-teaming the former for the most of the night, it largely succeeded.
A team that gets most of its production inside, the Spiders were limited to just 22 points in the paint. Relying more on the perimeter than it typically does, Richmond went 11-of-35 from deep and didn’t truly hurt Bona from distance until the final minute.
“You have to pick your poison with a team like that … and we just chose to try to take Golden out of the game as much as possible,” Schmidt noted. “He had 13 and five (assists), so it’s not like we eliminated him. If you play him straight up, he’s going to get ‘Shoon in foul trouble or he’s just going to go.
“We tried to rotate; sometimes it was good, sometimes they made some shots, sometimes we didn’t rotate well and they missed. But that’s college basketball.”
KYLE Lofton added 13 points as part of a balanced scoring effort for the Bonnies, who checked each box in Schmidt’s “trifecta,” holding Richmond to 39.7 percent from the field, committing only 11 turnovers and holding a 36-30 edge on the glass.
Bona may, for now, have knocked the Spiders onto the wrong side of the bubble.
But for as big as this win was, they’re trying to keep an even keel.
“If this was the last game … but we have four more games and anything can happen in four games,” Schmidt said. “We have to concentrate on ourselves; we can’t worry about anybody else.
“We had five games left starting (Saturday) and our goal was to go 5-0. We accomplished the first step in that. If we do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll be fine, and that’s what we’re trying to concentrate on.”