New York City – The first semifinal in the NIT saw St. Bonaventure face Xavier. Madison Square Garden was truly transformed into Reilly Center Garden with Bona faithful out in full force.
First half: The first five possessions of the game saw Xavier with a 7-5 lead. Jack Nunge, Xavier’s seven-foot center, hit two early jump shots. Nunge’s ability to step out on the perimeter was a concern for Bona coach Mark Schmidt.
Nate Johnson canned two consecutive threes. Xavier was on fire building a ten point lead. Time out Bonnies at 14:19. The Bonnies attacked the rim on their first possession, since that point they are jump shooting. At the 12 minute media time out, Xavier leads 19-9. Bonnies scored one field goal in the last four minutes. Getting stops and better shot selection are priorities for Schmidt’s group.
Bonnies showing some 3-2 zone. Xavier is man to man. A Dominick Welch three and Abdoul Karim Coulibaly post move cuts the lead to five. Time out Xavier. Xavier answers with a 5-0 run of their own, the lead is back to ten. Bonnies get second chances, but many do not drop. At the under eight minute media time out the Xavier lead is 14.
With the lead at 19, Xavier is not playing conservative but not in any hurry either. Bona is struggling on the boards as the Musketeers are getting too many second chances.
Bonnies hit a few shots and picked up the defensive intensity. They were able to get the deficit to 15 at intermission.
Half: Xavier 38, St. Bonaventure 23
Offensive efficiency: Xavier 119, St. Bonaventure 72
At the half the keys for Bona were to take it one possession at a time. Get stops, limit second chances (Xavier led 11-0 in that category) and play poised.
Second half: First four minutes were crucial. Bona ‘won’ the first four 13-9 to trim the deficit to 11. Any serious Bona run is stopped by either Nunge inside or Adam Kunkel from deep or midrange. The under 12 media time came with Xavier holding a 56-46 lead. Bonnies are in striking distance but still need to limit second chances and close out effectively on the perimeter.
The ten minute mark the deficit is eight and the cheers of the Bona fans are deafening. A quick 5-0 run by the Musketeers starts to silence the Bona faithful. Bona answers with their own 5-0 run to get it back to a three possession game at the under eight media time out. And raise the sound level by decibels.
Bonnies force a turnover, get in transition and finish it with a Welch trifecta. Xavier interim coach Jonas Hayes calls time. The Xavier lead is five with 5:36 remaining.
Bona stops the first shot, Nunge tips in the rebound to push the lead back to seven. Second chances! Zach Freemantle got loose inside to push the lead to nine with 2:22 remaining. The Bona season is on the line. During the media time out the Bonnies maintained a positive body language and listened intently to Schmidt’s directions.
Kyle Lofton converts a drive after the media time out. Fremantle answers on the opposite end. A Welch three cuts it to six with 88 seconds left. Xavier beats a full court trap. Again, Freemantle on the other end. Bona goes in a fouling mode down six with a minute left. Osun Osunniyi takes a lob and slams it home. The Xavier lead is seven with 31 seconds remaining. Time out Bona.
Lofton fouls out with 12 seconds left and gets the well deserved standing ovation. Xavier seals it from the charity stripe.
Final: Xavier 84, St. Bonaventure 77
Offensive efficiency: Xavier 127, St. Bonaventure 117
Leading scorers: Xavier- Nunge, Kunkel, Fremantle 18.
St. Bonaventure- Welch 25, Holmes and Lofton 15
Records: Xavier 22-13, St. Bonaventure 23-10
Keys to the game:
Bona struggled on the offensive end in the first half.
Xavier won the points in the paint 38-30 and second chance points battles 15-5.
Whenever they needed a basket to stop a Bona run, Xavier converted.
“Wide range of emotions, sadness, anxiety, a little happiness. We lost coach Steele (Replaced following the first round win over Cleveland State). What these guys have done, that is what Xavier basketball is…We had to bang it down low and on the bounce. We had enough poise to execute when the game was on the line. Our guys did a much better job recognizing ball screen action.” Xavier interim coach Jonas Hayes
“Great college game kudos to our fans, couldn’t have a better crowd. First half we had good looks couldn’t make them, our offense affected our defense in the first half. Played much better second half. Toughness of your guys was really impressive. Proud of our seniors for what they have done the past four years. They represent Bonaventure the right way…Give Xavier credit. Whenever they needed something they got it. Disappointed with the loss but not the effort.” – St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt