By Dan Gardella
Brooklyn – After Rhode Island pulled off the upset in the opening game of the action packed day, two teams battled to get the opportunity to play the Rams in the semifinals
St. Bonaventure was in control from the get-go, holding George Mason to only 35% shooting for the game in a 68-57 victory to advance to the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament for the second time in a row.
George Mason, who barely snuck by George Washington yesterday afternoon put the first five points on the board, all credit to Jordan Miller. The Patriots would score six of the first eight points, all of which coming six minutes into the contest.
St. Bonaventure would then take a brief one point lead before George Mason responded the following possession, giving them an 8-7 lead. The Bonnies would unleash a 13-1 run to give them a comfortable 11 point lead with 8:40 left in the first half.
George Mason would answer with 10-3 run to cut the deficit to just four with five minutes left in the half. But as quickly as the lead was cut, it seemed to be built back up even quicker. Courtesy of back to back layups by Jaylen Poyser and an old fashion three by Ladarien Griffin, the Bonnies were leading by double digits once again.
The Bonnies lead would get as low as six but Mark Schmidt’s team would enter halftime leading 34-24 after forcing eight turnovers and holding the Patriots to 35% shooting.
“Against them, you are going to have to drive and kick,” said George Mason head coach Dave Paulsen. “That has been a weak spot for us.”
George Mason’s struggle to score in the first half carried over into early in the second half. The Patriots would miss their first five shots and could not get anything going on offense. However, their defense kept St. Bonaventure in check, keeping the lead at double digits.
While the Patriot offense continued to try and find ways to come back, St. Bonaventure would just open the lead even more. After George Mason cut the once 15 point lead down to nine, Dominik Welch would come down and drain a three to make the lead double digits once again.
Behind Welch’s strong play, the game would remain in favor of St. Bonaventure. In the second half, the Bonnies would not lead by any less than seven.
“The key was to keep them above the foul line. I thought we did a good job on Livingston,” said St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt. “We tried to keep them out of transition and take care of the ball. If we keep them in the half court, we are a better defensive team.”
The Bonnies were led by Welch who poured in a career-high 20 points in the victory. Welch also connected on six three-pointers.
“I’ve been feeling good for a while now,” said Welch. “When the first one went through, I knew it was going to be a good night.”
George Mason was led by Justin Kier, who scored 20 points, but on 17 shots. The Patriot offense seemed to never be able to find their groove.
“I thought that we defended well. They made some tough shots,” said Paulsen. “I’m proud of our guys. We dealt with adversity and fought and scratched and clawed to get back in the game.”
The Bonnies will face Rhode Island, who upset VCU in the quarterfinals, Saturday at 1.
“We’ve come together. But we need to come together more if we want to beat Rhode Island,” said Schmidt.
PHOTO: Courtney Stockard/Buffalonews.com