CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – St. Bonaventure’s run through the NIT over the past seven days has been a story of overcoming adversity and long odds.
Fittingly, just over a week removed from heartbreak at the foul line in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, senior Kyle Lofton earned the ultimate redemption by sinking two free throws with under six seconds to play to give the Bonnies a 52-51 victory at Virginia Tuesday night inside John Paul Jones Arena.
“It’s something I prayed for. Everything comes full circle,” Lofton said. “I prayed for it; ‘if I’m in this position again, I’ll hit them.’ And it happened. I’m confident in myself. I’m not going to let one situation hurt me.”
With the win, Bona advances to the NIT semifinals next Tuesday, March 29 at Madison Square Garden against Xavier, a winner over Vanderbilt in other quarterfinal action. The road that began in Colorado, continued in Oklahoma, and then led the Brown and White to Virginia will culminate in New York City.
Lofton finished with nine points, five assists and three steals while Osun Osunniyi (six rebounds, four blocks), Dominick Welch (10 rebounds) and Jaren Holmes (five rebounds) all scored 10 points apiece. Jalen Adaway tacked on nine points.
Bona’s trailed by five, 50-45, with under two minutes to play. On a night where offense came at a premium, the deficit could have seemed like much more.
“It was a rock fight. Usually, you get down by five to Virginia and that’s like you’re down by 15,” St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt said. “I thought we guarded just as well as they did. We hit some big shots and Osun had a big block at the end. With Kyle, it’s character. Character is what wins. He didn’t hang his head after the Saint Louis game. He’s a special kid and he was the guy we wanted on the line at the end. We’re looking forward to representing the Atlantic 10 in Madison Square Garden.”
The quarterfinal battle lived up to the pregame expectations of a defensive struggle.
Points came slowly for both sides, as the Cavaliers held a 13-12 edge with 6:38 left in the opening period while the Bonnies suffered a scoring drought over four minutes.
Bona finished the first half on a scoring flurry of sorts, though, heading to the locker room with a 21-17 advantage.
Holmes surpassed 1,000 career points with a layup to begin the second half to stretch Bona’s lead to six, but Virginia would answer with a 7-0 run as the hosts connected on six of seven field goal tries out of intermission for a 32-27 score.
As they had since Selection Sunday, though, the Bonnies would overcome an uphill battle.
Adaway worked underneath to pull within three, then Welch sank a game-tying trey with 6:30 to play.
A jumper from Lofton completed a 7-0 Bonnies run as the visitors grabbed the lead back before free throws from the Cavs tied the game at 42.
Adaway would put the Bonnies back in front with an NBA range three-ball as the shot clock buzzer sounded, 45-42, with 4:24 to go.
Unfortunately for the Bonnies, the Cavaliers would find traction from deep as well.
Armaan Franklin electrified the home crowd with back-to-back long balls as the hosts pulled ahead, 50-45 with 2:58 remaining.
It would be the last field goal of the night for Virginia.
Bona would score seven of the game’s final eight points to stun the home crowd.
Holmes started the closing stretch by working at the line for two with 1:49 left. On the next trip for the Cavs, Franklin drew a foul and made one of two at the stripe to again give the home team a two-possession edge.
With the clock ticking down, Welch provided perhaps the biggest 3-point basket of his career as he pulled Bona’s within a point as 21 seconds remained.
UVA had the chance to at least lead by three after getting to the line with the Bonnies forced to foul, but a missed free throw on the front end of a 1 & 1 left the rebound to Holmes. Following a Bonaventure timeout, Lofton drove to the rim where he was fouled with 5.3 seconds to go and the Bonnies down 51-50.
Bona’s best free throw shooter through his four-year career, he had the opportunity to chase the memories of the Atlantic 10 Tournament 11 days earlier. He did so emphatically, calmly sinking both for the lead.
The last chance for the Cavaliers would be swatted away by Osunniyi who made career block No. 301 the exclamation mark on a win that gives the Bonnies three straight road victories at Power 5 foes in the last week.
“After we had the disappointment against Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, we sat down together with the seniors and asked them if they wanted to play in the NIT,” Schmidt said. “They said they were all in. We got the bracket and they sent us to Colorado. And it said if we won we would go to Oklahoma. And if we won again we would go to Virginia. If you told me that we would be here, going to Madison Square Garden, I wouldn’t have believed it. But our guys believed and did what they needed to do.”
Franklin led all scorers with 17 points.
St. Bonaventure improves to 23-9 while Virginia ends its season at 21-14.
- Both teams shot 37 percent from the floor. Bona committed fewer turnovers (seven) than UVA (nine), which entered the day top-10 nationally in turnovers per game. UVA held a 35-34 rebounding edge.
- Adaway, Welch, Lofton and Holmes all played the full 40 minutes while Abdoul Karim Coulibaly, a former ACC player himself, chipped in four points and five rebounds off the bench.
- Holmes becomes the 48th 1,000-point scorer in school history and now gives the Bonnies five active 1,000-point scorers, joining the rest of the starting lineup.
- Entering the day, the Bonnies had traveled 5,559 miles through the first three rounds of the NIT after flying to both Boulder, Co., and Norman, Okla. before trekking to Charlottesville, Va. for Tuesday’s game on less than 48 hours rest. Bona flew from Norman to Charlottesville Monday afternoon.
- Lofton moved into third place in school history with 593 career assists, passing Jaylen Adams, ’18.
- In all of Bona’s three NIT wins, the club scored its first win over each opponent in school history. St. Bonaventure had never previously played Virginia.
- The Bonnies have registered three straight wins over Power 5 teams for the first time in school history. To reach Madison Square Garden, the Bonnies defeated members of the Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC.
- Osunniyi becomes the 10th player in Atlantic 10 history to reach 300 career blocks, moving into ninth all-time among A-10 players.
- St. Bonaventure advances to the NIT semifinals for the first time since winning the championship in 1977.
- TV information and game time for the semifinals will be released following the conclusion of the quarterfinals Wednesday. SBU’s game vs. Xavier will be at either 7 p.m. or 9:30 p.m.
- Hundreds of Bonnies fans were in attendance for the game held seven hours away from Bonaventure’s campus. “That’s what Bonaventure is all about,” Schmidt said. “People support us wherever we go. It’s great to know that we have the support of so many people and to know how much they care.”
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