Bonifant Is Catalyst For Hilltoppers

EAST STROUDSBURG, Pa. – The last person on the West Liberty men’s basketball team you expect to struggle with a confidence issue is the guy who shoots 54 percent from 3-point range.

But sophomore Seger Bonifant had one double-digit scoring game in his last 12 heading into Saturday’s Atlantic Regional quarterfinal against Glenville State at East Stroudsburg University. His scoring average dipped from a season-high of 16.5 on Jan. 9, all the way down to 10.8 during that span.

“He has a tendancy to get disappointed in himself because he expects to make every shot,” Coach Jim Crutchfield said after Bonifant scored 13 in an 88-72 Hilltoppers (27-3) victory against the Pioneers. “I would say that would be the proverbial double-edged sword.

“He expects perfection and that makes him a good shooter, but also he gets down a little too easy on himself sometimes.”

Nothing a game against Glenville State, which happened to provide Bonifant’s last double-digit outing (18 points on Feb. 22) and a little pick me up from friends can’t cure, it seems.

Bonifant wasted little time getting into the flow of the game, dropping in a couple mid-range jumpers as soon as he entered off the bench. He added a pair of soft-as-silk 3-pointers to finish with 10 first-half points, which also happened to be the margin of West Liberty’s lead.

“My teammates have really got me going. I knew the 1-3-1 (Glenville plays), Coach pulled me aside this week and said ‘Seger, you are going to have to step up and hit some 3s this game, so be aggressive.’

“We worked on that 1-3-1 all week, over and over again. I came in knowing I had to make shots.”

Let’s not mince words here.

The Hilltoppers are going to go as far as Bonifant, a product of Hiland High School, will take them. Cedric Harris is their engine, C.J. Hester their heart, and Shawn Dyer their instant offense off the bench.

But Bonifant is the guy opposing coaches fear most because of his deadly accuracy from beyond the arc. He can turn a two-point lead into an 11-point bulge in the blink of an eye.

That would seem to be a lot of pressure for a young man who has found the going a little unsteady as the marked man, if you will. Bonifant, though, laughs at the mere suggestion.

“I love that, man. I love big games,” he said. “Whenever I shoot it, whatever happens, it is going in.

“If I miss it, the next one is going in.”

Crutchfield wants to see that mentality transfer to the court. Bonifant is fourth on the team in minutes per game (25.5) and his numbers haven’t declined because he’s missing shots. The problem is, Bonifant isn’t taking enough of them.

“You go back and look and his minutes didn’t go down as much as you might think. He actually had a lot of minutes where he didn’t get shots up,” Crutchfield said. “As far as me or the coaching staff, we’re saying ‘shoot it.’

“As far as confidence goes, I’ve got more confidence in him shooting the ball than anyone. He is an incredible shooter.”

It seems as though Bonifant, for his part, understands. From now on if he misses a couple in a row, which rarely happens, by the way, the next one is going up without hesitation.

“We pass so well – Coach stresses it all the time – so it’s my job just to knock them down,” he said.

If Bonifant keeps drilling them, the Toppers have a legitimate chance to win it all.

Shawn Rine can be reached via email