By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
After last Saturday’s loss at George Washington, Denzel Gregg took to Twitter to express his frustration about his foul-out.
“Man I shoulda played football smh,” Gregg wrote.
If Wednesday night’s 83-65 Bonaventure victory over La Salle had been a football game, it would’ve been like if the Atlanta Falcons hadn’t squandered their 25-point lead over the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. On this night, Bona only gave up a metaphorical touchdown in garbage time.
Gregg scored 18 of his career-high 28 points in the first half, a half SBU (16-9, 8-5) took a lead just three minutes into and would never surrender. The 6-foot-7 Syracuse, N.Y. native was whistled for just one foul on the evening.
After La Salle (13-11, 7-6) cut Bona’s lead to one (19-18) about eight minutes in, coach Mark Schmidt’s team outscored the Explorers 64-47 the rest of the way. As often happens in a blowout, Bonaventure took its feet off the gas at the end and La Salle went on an 11-0 run to close the game, but the damage had been done.
A 69 percent (20-of-29) shooting effort from the field in the first half was tempered in the second, but the Bonnies still shot over 50 percent for the game for the first time since the Jan. 14 victory over Fordham. Bona also scored 22 points off 14 Explorer turnovers and held its opponent under 70 points for the fifth time in the last eight games.
“I thought this was the most complete game that we’ve played all year, at both ends of the court,” Schmidt remarked. “When Denzel plays like he did tonight, we can beat anybody. He’s that third guy, and he was aggressive, wasn’t hesitant.”
Gregg and Jaylen Adams were the catalysts to the good start. Adams, following what he described to be the flow of the game, had four assists in the first five minutes and finished with 12 helpers to go along with his 16 points. It was the junior’s fourth double-double of the season and helped SBU get at least 15 assists and 10 steals for the second straight game and only the third time this year.
The triangle-and-two defense, which Explorers coach John Giannini employed in hopes to stop Adams and Matt Mobley, wasn’t effective because of the night Gregg had. And when your defense isn’t working against a player with as high a basketball IQ as Adams, you’re in for a long night.
“They went triangle-and-two early,” Adams explained, “and they were leaving guys open in transition, so I was coming out just trying to push the ball. And when we beat the defense down the court, the dimes were there.”
Rarely has Bona’s Big Three of Adams, Mobley and Gregg collaborated as well in the same game as last year’s trio of Adams, Marcus Posley and Dion Wright. However, the current edition nearly outscored the entire Explorer team on its own, with 62 points.
“You always want to have three guys that are playing well and if you can ever get that fourth guy you can be really good,” Schmidt commented. “When we get the three guys playing the way they played tonight, it’s harder for (teams) to lock in on Jay and Matt.”
The players that concerned the brown and white most offensively coming in were B.J. Johnson, Pookie Powell and Jordan Price, three high-major transfers who can light it up. That trio combined for 37 on 11-of-27 shooting, an A-plus job by an ever-improving Bonnies defense.
“They wear a jersey just like I do, play in the same league I do, so it’s no different than anyone else,” Gregg said.
“I thought we defended really well,” Schmidt noted. “We changed defenses, I thought we kept them off-balance.
“They missed some shots, but I thought we had a lot to do with them missing some shots.”
Not only did Bonaventure help itself keep pace with George Mason with the victory, it got some help from the Fordham Rams as well. The Rams went on the road and upset Rhode Island in the Ryan Center, 53-43. Bona, Rhody and Mason are now in a three-way tie for that coveted fourth spot in the A-10 standings.
While Rhody currently holds the tiebreaker due to beating SBU head-to-head, the Bonnies made a statement that they are still firmly in the race.
“It’s always important to play in front,” Schmidt said. “I thought our effort was good, but we executed, we made shots. If you’re playing defense and you’re playing hard and the ball’s not going in, at times it gets frustrating, but I thought we made good decisions.
“We made shots in the first half… and that helps at the defensive end, too. But playing in front is much easier.”