[Demitrius Conger and the rest of the Bonnies employed their havoc defense in a 65-55 win over Bethune-Cookman – Photo by Melissa Scott]
By Ryan Lazo, Co-editor in chief/feature columnist, @RMLazo13
The Atlantic 10 Conference Champions and NCAA Tournament banners were raised high into the rafters, officially closing the curtain on the magical season that occurred in Olean, N.Y. last year.
St. Bonaventure raised the curtain on a new season, a new era of Bonnies basketball, as they faced off with Bethune-Cookman in their season opener at the Reilly Center in front of 4,215 spectators.
And the Brown and White did not disappoint their fans, dropping the Wildcats by a 65-55 score – the lowest amount of points surrendered in a season opener since 2000 in a 68-53 victory over New Mexico State.
After scoring 104 points in their exhibition victory, much was made of the Bonnies up tempo offense, but it was slowed down considerably by the Wildcats.
“They delayed the ball, holding it for 20-25 seconds,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said after his team’s victory. “For the most part, we were disciplined, but they got us of out our rhythm a little bit.”
That would be an understatement.
At times, the Bonnies (1-0) looked lost on offense as they just tossed the ball around the perimeter while looking for holes that would not open up. Time and time again, they would struggle to find an open man and end up taking a bad shot, resulting in shooting just 8-for-22 in the first half.
“We were really stagnant,” Matthew Wright said after his 13-point performance on 5-for-8 shooting. “You can’t be stagnant on a zone. There has to be player ball movement. We were too unselfish and hesitant to shoot.”
Wildcats (0-1) head coach Gravelle Craig said he took the Bonnies out of their comfort zone by playing zone.
“I saw that they were bigger and more athletic than us,” Craig said after the game. “I rather have had them shoot jump shots and working hard for shots then have them driving and dunking over us.”
But halfway through the second half, the Bona offense erupted with two consecutive 3-pointers from Demitrius Conger and Wright to jumpstart the struggling offense, producing a 13-4 run.
Forcing turnovers led to easy baskets, as the Bonnies displayed their own version of the havoc defense, converting the miscues into 21 points, sealing the too-close-for-comfort victory.
Welcome to the new era of St. Bonaventure basketball.
No longer do the Bonnies have a star player to bail them out when things are not going their way. Instead, they have a multitude of experienced players who are capable of taking over a game at any point.
And on this night, that player was Eric Mosley.
“I thought Eric was the player of the game,” Schmidt said of his offensive sparkplug.
Mosley entered the game and became instant offense for St. Bonaventure. The senior guard dropped in 14 points on 4-for-8 shooting including 3-for-6 from 3-point range.
But he didn’t stop there.
His intense defensive pressure led to two steals and points for the Bonnies when they needed them most.
However, no one had a bigger impact on the defensive side of the ball than Youssou Ndoye, Bona’s new starting center.
Ndoye may have struggled from the field as he unveiled his Nicholson-esqe jump-hook, but his five blocks on defense — a career high — changed the game.
“I was trying to be aggressive because I wasn’t making my shots,” Ndoye said after his 2-for-6 performance. “I had to do something on defense to help my team.”
Truth be told, it was a total team effort to earn the win as nine Bona players recorded points in the opener. And Wright said they are only going to get better.
“We are nowhere near where we want to be,” Wright said. “We have the blueprint of what we want to do from last year. We’re just going to get better.”
Learning a new offense and defense, the Bonnies struggled early and were brought to the limit. But the winning attitude from last year resurfaced as they answered every Wildcats’ run. Time will tell if that attitude will continue to lead to victories.