ST. BONAVENTURE – This piece wasn’t written to be prophetic … indeed, I never would have wanted it to be.
Yesterday afternoon, it occurred to me that St. Bonaventure’s basketball team had gotten precious little production from its bench to this point in the season. So I started my column six hours early.
And since coach Mark Schmidt’s team relies on five returning senior starters, my concern was what happens if he loses a member of that “Ironman Five” for any amount of time.
Some will say that sort of thinking is a jinx.
But, after all, they were playing Coppin State (1-9) in a “buy” game, meaning the Bonnies didn’t owe the Eagles, a 23½-point underdog, a return visit in Baltimore.
Sure enough, though, Wednesday night at the Reilly Center, before 2,976 mostly horrified witnesses, my worst fears were realized … it’s just a question of the severity.
With under a minute to play in Bona’s 93-81 victory, point guard Kyle Lofton jumped up to make a pass, landed awkwardly and was instantly writhing in pain near mid-court.
The building fell silent as Lofton was helped to the bench, hopping on his right leg supported by two trainers.
Afterward, when asked about the injury, coach Mark Schmidt, when asked about the injury, offered a curt, “I’m not a doctor.”
Nor am I.
But as a person who has had a ruptured achilles tendon, it didn’t appear, from the angle of Lofton’s foot, that was the issue. Neither did it appear to be a knee problem.
Best guess it’s an ankle injury, the question being whether it’s low, or the more punitive high-ankle sprain, though neither one figures to be a worst-case (season-ending) scenario.
STILL, the Bonnies still face four tough games in the decidedly difficult non-conference slate crafted by Schmidt.
Next up is an RC meeting with Big Four rival Buffalo, Saturday at the RC, and later neutral court games against Connecticut (Newark, N.J.) and Virginia Tech (Charlotte) plus a visit to Northeastern (Boston) later this month.
Last night, for the sixth time in seven games, the Bonnies trailed by double figures, this time, 12 points to Coppin State in the opening half.
Oddly, the only time Bona failed to fall behind by at least 10, was the one-sided victory over Marquette in the championship game of the Charleston Classic.
And though the Bonnies trailed the Eagles for over 12 ½ minutes of the first half, Schmidt got a long look at his bench as starters Osun Osunniyi, Dominick Welch and Jaren Holmes spent time on the bench with two fouls.
In previous games, Bona trailed Canisius by 10 and Boise State by 12, in the first half, Canisius by 11 after intermission, Clemson by 16 in the opening 20 minutes and 14 in the second half and Northern Iowa by 19 with under 17 minutes to play.
THOSE deficits had translated to some major minutes for Bona’s starters, four of whom were exceeding even last year’s heavy workload heading into the Coppin State game..
Lofton, who averaged 38 minutes last season, was at 39 this trip, and was 52 seconds short of a complete game when he was hurt. Holmes is at 38, after 33 in 2020-21 and two other guards, Welch and Jalen Adaway were each at 35 coming into last night, after 34 and 33, last year. Only center Osun Osunniyi is down – from 34 to 29 – due to some early-season foul trouble and an in-game injury.
But in last year’s coronavirus-aborted season, the Bonnies played only 21 games, including one in the NCAA Tournament. This year, Bona has a more-traditional 30-game schedule, and that doesn’t include the Atlantic 10 championships or any subsequent postseason invitation.
In short, Schmidt knows he needs more than his starting five to negotiate this demanding slate which means more minutes from his seven-player bench. And, clearly, those subs must first earn his trust.
In three of the six games before Coppin State, the Bonnies bench collectively contributed between eight and 19 minutes, total, an average of 13 per game.
When asked last season about the mountain of minutes logged by his starters Schmidt allowed, only half-jokingly, “These are 20-, 22-year old men … they’re young and can play those minutes.”
However, in a game where the Bonnies were trailing by a dozen with just over 2½ minutes remaining in the first half, Schmidt got a good look at three members of his bench.
Sophomore center Abdoul Karim Coulibaly, the 6-9 transfer from Pitt, played nearly 9½ minutes, scoring 10 points including a trey, redshirt freshman guard Quadry Adams, the transfer from Wake Forest, played 20 minutes with four points, two rebounds and an assist and freshman guard Justin Ndjock-Tadjore was in for nearly three harmless minutes.
When asked about the 32 minutes and 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting from his bench Schmidt admitted, “I thought Karim and Quadry came in and gave us a lift … and that’s what we need. Quadry didn’t have a great line, but I thought he played a good defensive game.
“Any coach wants to know what you’re going to give when you come off the bench, but today they gave us some positive minutes. Hopefully that gives them some confidence going forward.”
And depending on how much time Lofton might miss, it’s coming at just the right time.