BUFFALO, NY — The comeback was brewing.
After two free throws by senior Amadi Ikpeze brought the St. Bonaventure University men’s basketball team’s deficit to within 56-54 with 1:22 left to play against the Canisius College Golden Griffin, a subsequent rebound and timeout by Dom Welch had the Bonnies in position to erase a once double-digit, second-half deficit.
During the timeout, Golden Griffins coach Reggie Witherspoon’s message was simple.
“The decision was, we weren’t going to switch on defense because our communication wasn’t up to that standard to get it done successfully," Witherspoon said. "The final thing we left them with was, ‘Don’t give up an open three.’ ”
Moments later, just inside the arc, Canisius senior guard Malik Johnson drew a charge call on St. Bonaventure sophomore Kyle Lofton, sealing his team’s 61-57 victory at KeyBank Center on Saturday.
“I kind of read that play and baited (Lofton) into it,” Johnson said of the definitive call. “I knew that if I beat (Justin Winston) downhill and got to that spot first that most likely it was going to be a charge.”
“Malik just made sure it got done,” Witherspoon added. “He just said, ‘I’m going to stay here and I’m not going to let him get a basket on me.' "
The charge stunted a back-and-forth stretch for the Bonnies — whose last lead came with 3:51 in the first half — during which they outscored the Golden Griffins 18-10 after facing a 10-point deficit at the 13:02 mark in the second half coming mostly due to impressive play on the boards by Canisius.
“There wasn’t an offensive rebound that we didn’t think was ours,” Johnson said of his team’s 24 offensive rebounds. “I missed a three at one point there at the end and it was nobody’s ball --- but we thought it was our ball. That’s a testament to our coaching staff.”
“Physically, (Canisius) beat us,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said after the game. “They did a good job on the backboard. They did a terrific job, and every time we got a stop, it seemed like one of those guys got an offensive rebound and a put back. Physically, we got manhandled in the paint.”
Schmidt did believe that the Bonnies did a good job on Johnson, who entered this game averaging 20 points per game and finished with 15.
“Defensively, we did a decent job, but we just couldn’t rebound the ball,” he said, noting the 16-7 advantage Canisius had in second-chance points.
“Offensively, though, we were really bad,” he said, noting the Bonnies' 40 percent effort from the field. “We got to the foul line, which was good, but we just couldn’t get anything going offensively. Nothing inside.”
Offensively, Lofton led the team with 18 points, while freshman Justin Winston continued his hot offensive play, adding 14. But Schmidt noted that the offense will have to, for the moment, live and die by players who are still experiencing growing pains.
“If you hold a team to 61 points, you should have a chance to win,” he said. “We have freshmen that are sometimes going to do it and sometimes that don’t. Today, they didn’t. Physically, (Canisius) just took it to us.”
He added, “With a young team, you’re going to have games like this. You’re just going to have to fight through them and get better.”
The Bonnies, who now are 1-4 on the season, next face Mercer University on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Reilly Center.
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