By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
PHILADELPHIA — For 31 minutes, Wednesday night’s St. Bonaventure-St. Joseph’s men’s basketball game was like any other meeting in the rivalry- close, contentious and physical.
With nine minutes left and SBU holding onto a 59-55 lead, the tension would boil over in Hagan Arena. Hawks coach Phil Martelli argued with the officials over a call and was hit with a technical. The 62-year-old was livid with the “T” and continued to jaw with the stripe-clad refs. The officiating crew responded with a second technical.
The man referred to as the “dean” of the Atlantic 10 had been kicked out of his own office. It was the first time he got the heave at home, on record, since a Feb. 7, 1998 loss to George Washington.
Bona guard Matt Mobley was given four foul shots and sank each one with ease as a four-point edge doubled to eight. St. Joe’s had taken the lead less than three minutes before, but SBU went on a run and would never trail again, winning 83-77.
The Martelli ejection was not the sole reason Bonaventure won the game and improved its record to 17-10, 9-6 in the A-10. But the momentum swing sure didn’t hurt.
“It’s free points, and I needed all those free points, so I just took advantage,” Mobley, who led all scorers with 31 points, said with a smile. “I’m glad they called it so I could get those four and I put us up.”
The junior played a complete game, contributing to a pretty stat line: 7-of-13 shooting from the floor, a 13-of-14 clip from the free-throw line, 10 rebounds, five steals and just one turnover.
Nine other college players since the 2010-11 season have scored 30 points, grabbed 10 boards and collected five steals in a game. The list includes Ben Simmons, Kemba Walker, C.J. McCollum and Elfrid Payton.
When star point guard Jaylen Adams was held to just six points in the first half, Mobley’s point-a-minute performance (20 points in the first 20 minutes) was vital for Bona to go into the locker room up 40-36.
Many of Mobley’s seven made field goals came via a step-back jumper that has become a lethal move in his arsenal.
“I just practice it a lot,” he said. “That’s continuous repetition in the gym, and I’m just glad to see it pay off.”
In the second half, the Worcester, Mass. native’s teammates started to come alive. Denzel Gregg scored all 12 of his points after two quick fouls limited him to a four-minute first. After Mobley’s hot start kept the Hawks honest, Adams was freed up, and he responded with 11 down the stretch. David Andoh was the fourth scorer coach Mark Schmidt had been looking for, chipping in 11 overall.
“(Matt) played really well,” Schmidt said. “He shot the ball well, made his foul shots. He held us in there for a while. Denzel got two quick fouls and LaDarien (Griffin) got three quick fouls. I thought Dave was a big key, coming in and making some shots. And we made enough plays at the end to get the victory. Matt was a big part of it.”
The rebounding category finished even at 36 each. The Hawks (10-17, 3-12 A-10) blocked seven Bonaventure shots, but Bona collected 13 steals. SJU was whistled for just one more foul than SBU, as the teams combined for 49.
In a hostile battle that was much more even than the standings would suggest, the Bonnies made the plays they were unable to make in last Saturday’s loss at Dayton.
“Someone told me in Vegas it was a six-point (betting) line, so it’s a six-point game,” Schmidt remarked. “You knew it was gonna be a hard-fought game. They’re big and strong inside and they play a little different than when they had Kimble. Kimble had the ball in his hands a lot and now it’s more of a flowing, four-out motion (offense). And they attacked the basket. We did at times, kept the ball in front and at times we didn’t.
“We played good at times, we had some lulls but in the end, it’s a victory, and that’s what we came in to do.”
The Hawks were playing with house money. After losing guards Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble, it became clear that while the season hadn’t concluded, any chance of making noise in the conference was slim.
With most of the pressure gone, and the emphasis on competing with one of the top-tier teams in this year’s league, the Hawks played well, shooting 46.7 percent for the game and getting a great game out of James Demery, who scored 21 points.
“Teams that really don’t have anything to lose, they’re the most dangerous teams,” Mobley said. “They lost both their guards, they’re probably not going to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament, so they’re just trying to play, and their season’s almost over, like coach said.
“I kind of expected a dogfight. We’re at their house, they wanted to play hard, they wanted to prove that they can play with a good team. I wasn’t really surprised, I expected it, but I’m glad we got it done.”
The Bonnies entered the game as the 15th-best free throw shooting team in Division I, at 77 percent. After going 28-of-33 (84.8 percent) on Wednesday, they will likely climb the ranks again. 22 of the 28 makes came in the second half, when they needed every basket.
“It’s great that we fought through adversity,” Mobley commented. “Close game all the way through, we had to fight hard. I think we played pretty hard, but we just had a couple defensive breakdowns, weren’t really communicating the first half, but we fought through it. That’s the sign of a good team, so I’m glad we got it done.”
The victory marked Bona’s seventh consecutive victory over one of its fiercest rivals. It’s a streak the team takes a measure of pride in.
“We’ve had some really good games with them, like tonight,” Schmidt said. “Last year, it took Marcus 47 points to beat them. We’ve had really good games and we’ve got lucky in some games, we’ve played well in some games.
“I’ve said it when we got into the league, St. Joe’s is one of those teams you look at and try to build your program to beat. They do it the right way and there’s a lot of respect there, and for us to come in and beat them is great for our program.”