Bonnie title proved vindication for ’19

Just about two years to the day have passed. The memory is as vivid as the date it happened. March 17, 2019- St. Patrick’s Day. A sun splashed Sunday in Brooklyn. On a day of parades and revelry the recollection for one group was not celebratory, rather it was painful. St. Bonaventure battled Saint Louis for the Atlantic Ten Tournament title at Barclays Center. The Bonnies built a 15 point lead late in the first half. It was 9 at the break. The final 20 minutes saw Bona score 19 points. Regardless, the final seconds there was a chance to win. A last second Bona three point attempt from the corner found rim and no net- 55-53 Saint Louis.  

Streamers and confetti would rain down from the Barclays rafters as the champion Billikens celebrated at center court. Bona cheerleaders unsuccessfully tried to fight back tears.  The Bonnies slowly walked off the court heading to their locker room. Some heads were down. Others looked straight ahead trying to make sense of what just transpired. Even an impartial observer could commiserate seeing the hurt on the players and coaches expressions. For Bona faithful, Barclays Center had become Heartbreak Hotel. 

Bona coach Mark Schmidt, beside preaching defense and rebounding, adheres to a simple principle- one game at a time. Your next opponent is your most dangerous one on the schedule per Schmidt. Kyle Lofon, the Bonnies outstanding junior lead guard, buys into that mantra, Excuse Lofton though, for having that March afternoon of ’19 stored in his memory bank.

Lofton was a freshman back then. He and current classmates Dominick Welch and Osun Osunniyi all started on that team. After the near miss the thought was, three talented freshmen in the starting lineup meant the Bonnies would be contending again. In this game, nothing is guaranteed and certain as the seasons progress. Last season saw no A10 Tournament. This year was one shrouded in uncertainty. For Lofton the only certainty was working to avenge 2019.

An outright regular season title was achieved. In the conference tournament, Duquesne was dispatched in the quarterfinals. The semis brought a date with Saint Louis, who had several players from that game two years prior.  

This time, playing in Richmond, the Bonnies defeated Saint Louis 71-53. Lofton contributed a double-double, 12 points and 10 rebounds. There was post game satisfaction in eliminating the Billikens. Lofton also remarked, “they are a great team and we wanted to prove we are as well.”  Not all the work was done. There was one more obstacle.

Bonnies would face VCU for the championship at Dayton. In a game where they built a lead then faced a VCU run, the Bonnies sustained that run this time and prevailed  74-65. Lofton scored a game high 23 points with 6 assists. Besides accolades and an all-tournament honor came satisfaction. 

“Yes 2019 was on our minds,” Lofton said post game when queried about the near miss of two years back. “We were one shot away from the (A10) championship and NCAA  tournament. Instead our season was ending. It was on our minds when we faced Saint Louis (in the semis) and definitely today.” Interestingly, Lofton, Welch  and Osunniyi, the trio on the court in ‘19,  all stepped to the front in Dayton. 

In that game in Brooklyn Dominick Welch did not take the final shot. He did have a great look at a three that would have given Bona the lead seconds earlier. The shot rimmed. Against VCU, Welch found vindication burying a three with just over a minute left-your proverbial ‘dagger’. 

Osunniyi, the tournament MVP this time around simply said, “we were not going to leave Dayton without a championship”

Schmidt was animated in the final seconds at Dayton, waving a fist in approval while wearing a wide smile. The Bona mentor seemed to get his greatest joy in watching his team enjoy their moment. “To see the smiles on our guys faces that’s what you coach for,” he said. Schimdt undoubtedly remembered two years back and was thrilled to see how his group worked, through Pandemic and all, to put that memory aside and completely enjoy the new one they just created.  “This group will go down in (Bona) history,” he added.

The Bonnies cut down the nets in Dayton. One would ascertain that a net will find itself on display in Bona’s Reilly Center. Another net would find another special destination. “This has been a bittersweet season,” Schmidt admitted. “With the (recent) passing of our president Dr. DePerro we lost a great leader who did so much for the team and the university and we dedicated the season to him. We are sending one of the nets to his family.”   

Schmidt’s gesture was just a special and classy gesture. Capping off a satisfying day for the Bonaventure team, coaches and devoted followers. A day that put two years back in the rear view mirror.