By Dan Gardella
Brooklyn – With the final four of the Atlantic 10 Tournament set, the lights would shine brighter and the pressure would be even greater to live to see Sunday afternoon.
After trailing by double digits in the first half, St. Bonaventure turned up the pressure and ran away from Rhode Island, 68-51 to advance to the A-10 Championship.
After their upset win yesterday afternoon against VCU, Rhode Island opened the game with the early advantage. While Ram’s guard Jeff Dowtin said that they felt disrespected, they silenced the naysayers with a quick 7-2 spurt out of the gate and led built up an 11-5 lead just seven minutes in.
On the Bonnies sideline, a 2-12 start shooting the basketball along with early turnovers led to a slow start. St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt would reach a breaking point with 11 minutes left in the half when St. Bonaventure would surrender two layups to Rhode Island guard Fatts Russell, the second one coming off of a steal to make it 15-7 in favor of the Rams.
The Rhode Island lead would reach double digits at the midway point of the half when Christon Thompson knock down a three to make to 20-10. St. Bonaventure would continue to be running in place as the final media timeout approached.
“We’ve been down, we’ve struggled,” said St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt. “They rebounded. It’s a great lesson in life when you get knocked down in life. We couldn’t have played better in the second half.”
The Bonnies began to wake up, going on an 13-0 run over the final four minutes while holding Rhode Island scoreless for the same amount of time to cut the deficit to just two.
“We got more comfortable, people we getting confident, we were playing tougher” said guard Kyle Lofton about the keys to the run.
The St. Bonaventure run would bleed into the second half as Osun Osunniyi would convert a layup to tie the game at 29. The 15-0 run would finally end when Cyril Langevine would knock down a pair of free throws to give the Rams the lead for a brief lead. The lead would then change hands four times in the first five minutes of the half.
No team would manage to gain the comfortable upper edge on the other as play progressed. St. Bonaventure would become first team to pull away ever so slightly. Highlighted by a Ladarien Griffin slam plus the foul, the Bonnies would build a six point lead with around ten minutes left.
The Bonnies would hold Rhode Island at bay and continue to build up the lead. Behind the strong play of Osun Osunniyi in the paint, St. Bonaventure would have their lead extended to as much 12 with 4:30 remaining after the another 8-0 run while holding Rhode Island scoreless for an extended period of time.
“He didn’t have a great first half,” said Schmidt. “But he did a really good job on Langevine.”
St. Bonaventure would lock down defensively and turn a once 15 point deficit into a blowout, outscoring Rhode Island 41-22 in the second half.
“We didn’t play very well in the beginning,” said Schmidt. “We were a little nervous. We found a way. If we went into halftime down double digits, it would be different ballgame. The guys didn’t give up. They understood we didn’t play well the first 15 minutes of the half.”
The Rams, whose impressive run in the A-10 Tournament comes to a close in the semifinals were led by Cyril Langevine, who scored 15 points and grabbed 9 rebounds.
“It’s always tough when it’s the end of a great run and a year,” said Rhode Island head coach David Cox. “The guys represented the University of Rhode Island and the basketball program well.”
The Bonnies were led by Kyle Lofton, who followed up his 20 point performance in the quarterfinal with a 23 point, 5 assist performance in the semifinal They will face the winner of Davidson and St. Louis in the final, their first appearance since 2012.
PHOTO: Kyle Lofton/USATodaysports.com