St. Bonaventure wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near the Atlantic 10 title game this year. The Bonnies lost three big pieces from their NCAA Tournament team and had to work three freshmen into the mix.
They were picked for ninth out of 14. That looked like it might be generous after a very slow start. But the Bonnies spun the season around, winning seven of their last eight in the regular season to finish fourth. Then they bounced fifth-seeded George Mason in Friday’s quarterfinal at Barclays Center.
They followed that up in Saturday’s semifinal against eighth-seeded Rhode Island by falling into a 15-point hole with 4:08 left in the first half. But the Bonnies spun the game around, ultimately cruising to a 68-51 victory behind 23 points from freshman guard Kyle Lofton.
So the fourth seed has a title fight waiting. St. Bonaventure will play Sunday at 1 against No. 6 seed Saint Louis, a 67-44 winner over Davidson in the other semifinal. The Bonnies (18-15) will be chasing the program’s first A-10 Tournament championship since 2012 after this comeback win
“They persevered and fought through it,” coach Mark Schmidt said. “It’s a microcosm of our year. We started 4-10, 0-1 in the league. Things weren’t going well. We had a lot of adversity with injuries and so forth. The kids never felt bad. They never got down. They kept on working. And that’s what we did today.”
The St. Bonaventure lead was just 50-46 with 7:27 left. But then the Bonnies took off. Lofton hit a jumper and four free throws during a burst of 14 straight points. It became an 18-1 run, good for a 68-47 cushion with 2:35 left.
“We got more comfortable,” Lofton said. “People gained confidence and we just played tougher.”
This was the third game in three days for the Rams (18-15), which had taken down the giant in the quarterfinals, knocking off top-seeded VCU.
“Not to make excuses, but, yeah, they were tired today,” coach David Cox said.
URI, paced by Cyril Langevine’s 15 points, still managed to grab a 29-14 advantage. Then St. Bonaventure reeled off the final 13 points of the first half to get back in it.
“We’ve got a young team,” Schmidt said. “It’s easy for them just to lay down and say, ‘It’s not our day.’ But we found a way.”