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Wild ‘ride’ ends for St. Bonaventure in NIT Final Four, could the Fab 5 all return next season? (videos and story)

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A SUN SPORTS REPORT

The graphic on ESPN said it all: The chartered student busses going from Olean to Manhattan on Tuesday for the NIT Final Four had three issues, one caught on fire, the emergency exit blew off the roof of a second and the third was pulled over by troopers.

The kids had a late arrival and the Bonnies on the basketball court were late getting hot, which cost them in the end as they lost to Xavier.

Here is the complete game story, a team that was ranked as high as 16th in the country this season with five seniors who played almost every minute of every game.

The very last line in this report from gobonnies.com is very, very interesting: “Each member of the Bonnies senior class has one year of eligibility remaining due to COVID-19 if they elect to use it.”

GAME STORY

NEW YORK – After the story the St. Bonaventure basketball team has written the past two weeks, it was almost certain that the Bonnies had one more run in them.

Even after falling behind by 19 in the first half and trailing by 15 at halftime.

Indeed, the Bonnies would bring their faithful to fever pitch in the waning minutes Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, but their first half hole would prove too much to overcome as Xavier hung on for an 84-77 victory in the NIT semifinals.

Dominick Welch turned in a career night, scoring a game-high 25 points after sinking 7 of 10 three-point attempts. The senior added seven rebounds as well.

Kyle Lofton had an outstanding effort in the Mecca of Basketball as well, finishing with a double-double of 15 points and 11 assists in a homecoming for the Bona’s senior. Fellow New Jersey native Osun Osunniyi finished with 12 points and four blocks.

“These seniors don’t have to hold their heads down,” St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt said. “I’m proud of their effort and proud of what they have done here the last four years, the legacy that they have left. It’s disappointing that we lost, but I’m not disappointed in our effort or what these guys have done.”

St. Bonaventure closes its season with a 23-10 record and its fourth-most victories in program history.

Bona opened strong, as it has throughout the tournament, with a thunderous dunk from Jalen Adaway and a trey by Welch.

Xavier (22-13) quickly turned the tide, though, embarking on a quick 10-0 sprint over a 2:08 span as the Musketeers jumped ahead by 12. Bona countered with a 7-0 run of its own to close within 19-14, but Xavier immediately responded with another run, this time rolling off 14 consecutive points for a 33-14 advantage.

Abdoul Karim Coulibaly provided the Bonnies with a spark off the bench, posting six first half points, but the Bonnies went to halftime with a 38-23 deficit.

St. Bonaventure came out of intermission hot, however, immediately getting the large contingent of fans who made the trip excited once more.

The Garden came alive as the Bonnies quickly cut the Musketeers lead to single digits in the first three and half minutes of the second period.

Xavier weathered the initial second half storm created by the Brown and White, but the Bonnies continued to chip away.

The post-game press conference.

Bona’s drew within 58-50 following free throws from Welch, but a long corner two from Zach Freemantle pushed the difference back to double digits.

That began a continuing trend down the stretch: each time the Bonnies seemed oh-so-close to battling all the way back, Xavier would answer.

After the Musketeers pushed back to a 13-point lead, Bona’s rallied again, closing to 63-55 following an Osunniyi dunk with 7:25 to play. A Xavier bucket would follow the media timeout, though.

St. Bonaventure drew to within 65-60 with 5:25 left, but a Xavier put-back kept the Bona’s fans from blowing the roof off of MSG.

Welch clawed the Bonnies back within 74-68 following his sixth trey of the night, but Xavier broke the Bonnies trap attempt, resulting in a Freemantle layup. Xavier would never let the Bonnies get closer than an arm’s length away despite their continued attempts to rally. 

Freemantle, Jack Nunge and Adam Kunkel all scored 18 points apiece for Xavier.

St. Bonaventure’s postseason run will certainly live on in program lore: three road wins at Power 5 opponents over the span of seven days as the Bonnies became the first mid-major program to accomplish that feat on the way to the NIT final four. 

“After the game vs. Saint Louis (in the A-10 Tournament), Coach brought us into his office and asked if we were going to play and he told us how special it was and the experience he had coming to the Garden,” Lofton said. “Winning three road games wasn’t easy, but we stick together. We wanted to play and we wanted to make a statement.”

Consider the statement made. 

GAME NOTES

  • Official attendance numbers were not readily available, but reports earlier in the day had St. Bonaventure fans accounting for approximately 5,500 of the 8,000 total tickets sold as of Tuesday morning.
  • St. Bonaventure was playing in its 26th NIT game at Madison Square Garden all-time, but first since the 1977 championship run. SBU was playing in the Garden for the first time at all since 1999.
  • Lofton reached 600 career assists, joining Marques Green and Shandue McNeill as the only three Bonnies players to achieve that feat.
  • Welch had career highs in both scoring and treys. His 25 points matched the most by any Bonnies player this season.
  • Bona posted 54 second half points, their highest-scoring half of the season. Unfortunately for the Bonnies, their 84 points allowed marked just the fourth time an opponent scored 80 or more points (0-4).
  • St. Bonaventure shot just 30 percent from the floor in the first half (9-30), but hit 20-of-32 attempts after halftime for a 63 percent success rate. Xavier shot 53 percent for the night and won the battle of the boards, 38-28, just the second time all year the Bonnies had a double-digit deficit on the glass with Osunniyi in the lineup. Fourteen offensive rebounds helped lead to 15 second chance points for X to Bona’s five. 
  • Lofton surpassed 1,600 career points while Welch passed Michael Burnett, ’91, for 32nd on the Bona career scoring list. Osun Osunniyi moved to 40th on the Bona scoring charts with 1,100 points. 
  • Each member of the Bonnies senior class has one year of eligibility remaining due to COVID-19 if they elect to use it. 

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