RICHMOND, Va. — Mark Schmidt has made much about his junior-laded squad this season. All five of his starters are juniors; one of them, a red-shirt junior. The two reserves he plays most frequently have played plenty of minutes. 

On Friday afternoon at the Siegel Center, the experienced group of Bonnies faced their most intense, high-stakes dose of adversity yet. A 21-point halftime lead dissipated about as quickly as ever. The Duquesne Dukes threw a ferocious pressure defense at Bona in an act of desperation, and it worked. 

Duquesne outscored the Bonnies 18-7 in the first six or so minutes of the second half to get within 10, 47-37. The meltdown was already brewing when it culminated in a technical foul on the Bonnies’ Alpha Okoli, who rarely sees the floor in game action. On the other side of a timeout, Duquesne converted on two free throws to close the gap to eight points, 47-39. Game on again. 

Sign Up for Greater Olean Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

That’s also when the No. 1-seeded Bonnies decided to stand tall, punch the lesser Dukes back and reclaim control of the contest. 

“I thought we lost some focus (in the second half),” Schmidt said. “We got lackadaisical, loose with the basketball. Duquesne upped the pressure a little bit. We didn’t handle it very well for that four, five, six minutes. But sitting in that timeout, we were letting the guys know we were still in decent shape. But we needed to make a run.”

The Bonnies didn’t just make a run. They made a massive, game-sealing run en route to a 75-59 victory. 

After the technical free-throws at the 13:42 mark of the second half, Bona scored the game’s next nine points to break it open like they did in the first half. By the 9:35 mark, the Bonnies had a 17-point lead after four points from Jaren Holmes, two from Osun Osunniyi and a 3-pointer from Dominick Welch. 

“You’re always going to face adversity,” 6-foot-10 center Osunniyi said. “Basketball is a game of runs. … Our whole starting five is veteran, and we were able to keep our composure and knew that we had to get stops on defense and let our offense play.” 

While the lead kept extending in part to the offense, Duquesne could not buy a basket against Bona’s defense, which forced 16 turnovers that led to 25 points in the game. The Dukes made two field goals and a free-throw from the 13:42 to the 4:28 mark. The Bonnies had the game in hand by then, comfortably leading 65-44. 

Anything else the Dukes accomplished from there did not matter.

“I thought our guys refused, got some stops, buckets, and pushed it out 16, 17, 18 and that was the game,” Schmidt said. 

All five Bona starters reached double figures in the contest. Welch, the team’s best 3-point shooter, converted on 4-of-10 from deep and went 7-of-15 in all for a game-high 18 points. Osunniyi had 18 points and 14 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season. His 14 rebounds tie Andrew Nicholson for the second-most in program history in a conference tournament game. The team’s leading scorer, Kyle Lofton had 11 points and five assists. Holmes, who was held scoreless in a regular season finale loss on Monday, scored 14 points. Jalen Adaway finished with 11 points. 

But individual stats are not what stands out most about the victory, which places Bona in Saturday’s semifinal round. 

It was how a veteran group of players collectively responded when they fell under immense pressure. Two years ago, much of this same group was in a similar situation in the Atlantic 10 Championship game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. They crumbled in the second half after leading a strong Saint Louis team by as many as 15 points in the first half. 

On Friday, nobody felt phased.

“We’re an experienced team,” Schmidt said. “They understood that for five or six minutes, they didn’t play very well. They needed to change. 

“...We have good players that understand what it takes to win.” 

And perhaps more importantly, players who know how to respond when it's needed most.

Sign Up for E-News to get top stories delivered daily to your inbox. 

Download the FREE TAPinto App!  Click here for Android - Click here for iOS to get news as it is happening.

Follow along our coverage all weekend in Richmond 

@MHoganReports on Twitter and @mhogan_reports_ on Instagram

Sign Up for E-News to get top stories delivered daily to your inbox. 

Download the FREE TAPinto App!  Click here for Android - Click here for iOS to get news as it is happening.