Down 15 points in the first half, St. Bonaventure never blinked. In fact, the Bonnies not only came back but eventually won with relative ease, topping Rhode Island 68-51 on Saturday afternoon at Barclays Center in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
The win gives the Bonnies their fourth appearance in the A-10 Championship game and first since 2012, when they won their only title.
Defense and scoring from three freshman starters powered St. Bonaventure past Rhode Island. The Bonnies held the Rams to just 22 points in the second half on 28 percent (7-25) shooting. St. Bonaventure freshman point guard Kyle Lofton led all scorers with 23 points to go with five assists. Classmate Dominick Welch scored 13 points and had nine rebounds and three blocked shots, while fellow freshman Osun Osunniyi had 10 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks.
Midway through the first half, St. Bonaventure’s chances of winning appeared bleak. The Bonnies started slowly and fell behind 17-7 by the 10:30 mark. Rhode Island extended its lead to 12 points and then finally to 15 on a Tyrese Martin three-pointer at the 4:08 mark.
Lofton sparked the Bonnies with a three-pointer of his own, then after a URI miss, Welch made a three-pointer to trim the margin to 29-20 and bring the Bona crowd to its feet.
The teams traded missed shots, then Courtney Stockard was fouled and he made two free throws. LaDarien Griffin scored on a drive, and Welch made another three-pointer, this one with 14 seconds left until halftime to pull the Bonnies within two at 29-27. The Bonnies’ 13-0 run to end the half gave them momentum that carried over to the second half.
Welch gave St. Bonaventure its first lead of the game 2:49 into the second half when he made a three-pointer that made the score 34-33. The game stayed close for the next six minutes, and it was still a 43-42 game when Osunniyi made a jumper and Griffin converted a dunk for a conventional three-point play at the 10:44 mark that pushed the Bonnies’ lead to 48-42.
It was a four-point Bona lead with 7:27 remaining when St. Bonaventure put the game away with a 14-0 run. Courtney Stockard made a jumper for his only field goal of the day and Osunniyi followed that with a tip-in. Two more Stockard free throws put the Bonnies up 10 points at 56-46 with 5:25 left.
The surge continued for the fourth-seeded Bonnies as Lofton made a jumper and then two free throws. He added two more at the line and then Griffin added a pair to make it a 64-46 game with 3:20 to play.
Rhode Island, the No. 8 seed in the Tournament, eliminated No. 1 seed VCU on Friday and had beaten St. Bonaventure on Jan. 16, 75-63.
St. Bonaventure, which has now won nine of its last 10 games, outrebounded the Rams 37-31 and had a 30-22 edge in points in the paint. The Bonnies were also nearly perfect at the free throw line, going 21-22.
Griffin finished with 13 points and six rebounds, while Stockard had nine points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals. The Bonnies’ starters played all but six minutes of the game.