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Mixed emotions on Bonnies’ season finish

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A column by Sun Senior Sports Columnist Chuck Pollock

From the time the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball season opened in early January, St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt lauded the conference’s depth and balance.

And as his Bonnies roller-coasted through a 9-9 regular season, he was proven right.

His team, voted to finish third in the 15-team Atlantic 10’s preseason poll, never won more than two straight conference games. And its regular season ended with a pair of galling losses, at LaSalle and home against Saint Louis, the league’s two last-place teams. The latter, on Senior Day, came to a team coached by Travis Ford, whose tenure would end with his firing two games later after the A-10 Tournament’s second round.

SCHMIDT maintained that players forget losses much more quickly than coaches and that assessment proved to be true.

While, from the outside, it seemed the Bonnies were headed into the tournament full-speed in reverse, his team found some much-needed grit.

Having fallen to the seventh seed, Bona, in the opening game at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, drew 10th-seed LaSalle, a team it had lost to by 13, three weeks earlier. The Bonnies gutted out a 75-73 decision to advance to the quarterfinals and a game against Loyola of Chicago, the No. 2 seed, but a team Bona had beaten by 15 at the Reilly Center only 16 days before. This time it was a tense 75-74 double-overtime victory. 

That punched a ticket to the semifinals and a meeting with sixth-seed Duquense, which had beaten the Bonnies twice in the regular season.

After losing to the Dukes, who opened the A-10 season 0-5, by four and six points, Schmidt’s crew seemed to have a great shot. But, early in the second half, Duquesne led by 14 and a frantic SBU rally cut the margin to four with the ball in the late-going. However, a sloppy turnover and a stretch of inaccurate three-point shooting doomed the Bonnies to a season-ending 70-60 loss.

SCHMIDT’S crew finished 20-13 and will lose four and possibly five players from a crew that UMass coach Frank Martin called “the oldest team in the country.”

If he was referring to starters — full-time or occasional — he was probably right. Those five, all transfers, average just over 24 years old. Moses Flowers is 27, Charles Pride and Mika Adams-Woods are 24 and Daryl Banks III and Chad Venning are 23, the latter of whom can return if he choses.

St. Bonaventure fans were apoplectic that their team had blown a golden opportunity to earn a coveted double-bye by losing their last two games, but Schmidt offered a word of caution. He warned that sometimes having two rounds off is too much rest when facing a team that has already won a game or two.

Schmidt was more prescient than he could have imagined.

In an Atlantic 10-first, all four top seeds — Richmond, Dayton, Loyola, and UMass — lost, leaving a Final Four of seeds No. 5 VCU, 6 Duquesne, 7 St. Bonaventure and 9 St. Joseph’s.

That emphatically proved Bona’s coach was right about the country’s eighth-ranked conference’s depth and balance. And it showed even in the  first two rounds. Yes, all 11 higher-seeded teams won but seven of those games were one-possession affairs in the final minute, which made for some exciting TV.

And Bona’s season was a good reflection of Schmidt’s contention. Against the A-10’s top five seeds, the Bonnies were 6-2 including two wins each over Loyola, UMass and VCU. But in games against the bottom nine teams there were those three losses to Duquesne, a split with Fordham, plus single defeats by George Mason and the galling ones to George Washington and Saint Louis.

IN SUNDAY’S final, Duquesne jumped to an 18-point lead, but struggled in the second half as the lead shrunk to three, but the Dukes held on to beat VCU and earned the Atlantic 10 Conference berth in the NCAA tournament.

It was a great story for coach Keith Dumbrot who endured that 0-5 A-10 start as his wife battled cancer. Very much like former Bona coach Tom Chapman who took his wife, Patty, to Buffalo for cancer treatments, even as his last season at Bona unraveled, Dumbrot did the same. He took constant criticism for his 22-62 record in three seasons, including from yours truly. But, in my mind, when he left after being fired, Chapman was one of the SBU coaches I admired and respected most due to his selfless, caring attention to his wife even as his coaching career collapsed.

For Schmidt it’s likely he rooted for Duquesne Sunday afternoon. He and Dumbrot are good friends and if Bona couldn’t win the championship, given the circumstances, it’s likely he was pulling for the Dukes to do it.

(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@wnynet.net.)

More from Chuck, from the Bonnies to the Bills:

The final four games for St. Bonaventure

• The Buffalo Bills have had darker days with cuts during off-season

• Caitlin Clark brings up memories of St. Bonaventure women and men’s basketball players

• St. Bonaventure primed for strong finish in Atlantic 10

• Feature on the Bonnies as the season winds down

• What to make from the Super Bowl

• A look at free agency with the Buffalo Bills

• Don’t blame Bass for the playoff loss

• St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt was right about the Atlantic 10 and the Bonnies

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