Behind The Wolfpack: Bonnies’ Seniors Aim To Leave On Last Mark

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[St. Bonaventure seniors Demitrius Conger and Eric Mosley, along with Chris Johnson and Michael Davenport will play their final home game tomorrow on Senior Day – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]

By Ryan Lazo, Editor in Chief, @RMLazo13

ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — While tomorrow’s game against Fordham represents a win and in scenario to make the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament for the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team, it also represents the final home contest for four seniors who have changed the program around.

Demitrius Conger, Michael Davenport, Chris Johnson and Eric Mosley.

Each of these seniors have etched their names into Bona program lore for their accomplishments, but all are aiming to leave a final mark on the program.

“It’s there, man. Everyday we come into the gym, you see the banners and stuff like that,” Chris Johnson said before practice. “But we still got an opportunity to make something happen this year and that’s where the focus is.”

And he’s right.

Because after starting the Atlantic 10 Conference season off with three consecutive losses and facing a daunting road trip to Philadelphia, a place of horrors for the Bona program, things looked bleak.

But those three losses, part of a six-game losing streak, were a turning point for a team that stunned everyone last season by capturing the A-10 Conference Tournament title with a late-season run.

Bona has seemingly captured their footing, winning three out of their last four games. Even more impressive: during their three-game winning streak, Bona averaged 93 points per game, getting hot at the right time once again.

“It’s a different team,” Johnson said. “We’re definitely turning it on in the stretch, but we’re running different plays, different guys are stepping up.”

Perhaps no one has stepped their game up more than the Bonnies’ senior point guard. While Mosley, at 5-foot-10, is the smallest Bona player on the roster, he has played bigger than any of his teammates.

With Bona needing every win they can get, Mosley entered Wednesday night’s game against Dayton averaging 27 points per game over the past four games. What makes that even more scary — it’s nearly identical to Andrew Nicholson’s 27.6 points per game average during last year’s Bonnies’ run.

“I’ve been telling Andrew that he wasn’t better than me,” Mosley said with an ear-to-ear grin. “I don’t know if he believes me or not, but we’re just trying to win games, stats don’t matter. I just want to get another ring.”

Another ring?

This coming from the same program that won just 32 games during a five-year span from the 2003-04 season to the 2007-08 season.

Why the sudden change?

Because players such as Davenport committed to a program that they believed was only going to get better, but even the Cincinnati native did not know the challenge that awaited him.

“I didn’t realize that they went 8-22 until after I had signed,” Davenport said. “My dad said, ‘you know they went 8-22’ and I was like, ‘what?’ To me, that was exciting. To start from scratch and be one of many to leave an imprint on rebuilding a program. That’s the biggest thing that will stick with me.”

But Davenport has also left Bona fans with memories that will stick with them for a lifetime. There was Davenport’s last-second 3-pointer against in Duquesne in 2010, handing the Dukes their first A-10 loss of the season.

Then, there were the numerous highlight dunks, none more so than when on a break, he received a bounce pass from Conger and skied over Lamont Samuel of Fordham. It’s a picture that is enshrined on the walls inside the Reilly Center.

With each highlight play, each signature win like the one over St. John’s, the near misses versus perennial powers such as N.C. State and Virginia Tech, the Bona program rose. And one player who rose each step of the way with it was No. 11.

Conger is truly in a class of his own.

The Brooklyn native has etched out a career so steeped in Bona history that only two other St. Bonaventure players have matched him. Conger has amassed over 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 200 assists in his career, the only other two were David Vanterpool and Ahmad Smith.

Additionally, this season may be Conger’s best.

The senior forward is the only player in the A-10 to lead his team in points (14.2), rebounds (7.1) and assists (3.1).

But more importantly, the quiet and humble Conger has become more of a leader on the court, talking to his teammates and quieting them down when they become heated with the opposition or referee.

“It’s just something that going into your senior year, you need to do,” Conger said. “You look back on the people before you like Ogo, (Andrew), Quan. You look back on the leadership they showed and what they had done and you try to take that and use your own personality.”

And the personality of the team has changed.

For years, Bona sat in the basement of the A-10 as a perennial joke, but with the additions of players who aimed to make a difference, they have become a tough-minded team capable of anything.

“Once we get our foot in the door, we can play with anyone,” Davenport said. “Last year, while it wasn’t a surprise we got the No. 4 seed, we earned it. And we’re doing the same this year.”

While this year’s Bona squad has not reached the heights of last year’s team, the confidence of being defending A-10 Champions is still there.

“We could have had a better record, but we just dropped a couple of games,” Mosley said. “Making it to the tournament, anyone can win it.”

Whether this Bonnies’ team has any magic left remains to be seen, but with a core group of seniors looking to make a final mark on a program they helped rebuild, anything can happen.

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Behind The WolfPack: Walker Leaves Lasting Legacy With The Bonnies

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[Alaina Walker embodied what it meant to be a Bonnies’ player over her four years with her determination – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]

By Ryan Lazo, Editor in Chief, @RMLazo13

ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y.Alaina Walker stepped through the tunnel of the Reilly Center and onto the court for the last time as a member of St. Bonaventure Women’s Basketball team.

Accompanied by her mother, Walker walked up to Bona coach Jim Crowley and embraced the man who she embodied through her play in each game — all out intensity, hustle and a fighter.

And while the Bonnies had already been eliminated from qualifying for the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament for the first time since the 2005-06 season, Walker had one more fight left in her. She aimed to snap the nine-game losing streak and end the season on winning note.

However, as Walker took to the court with music playing and the referee about to toss the ball in the air to open play, she could not help but lose focus, knowing this was her last time to make a first impression.

“Yea, it hit me,” the soft-spoken Walker acknowledged. “Then after that final buzzer went off, it kinda set in that it’s my last game. Unfortunately, you can’t come back. You got to move on.”

But before she did, Walker had to leave her lasting mark on a program that for years represented a doormat for A-10 opponents, only to recently become a preeminent power in the conference.

Facing a La Salle team that was on a four-game skid of their own, Walker made sure they would head back to Philadelphia feeling no love from the Bonnies. After Bona stormed out to a 5-2 advantage, the senior guard led a fast break and wiggled her way into the paint for a lay-up and forcing the Explorers to call their first timeout.

It would not change much the rest of the way as Walker was able to drive to the hoop with ease, sometimes taking it coast-to-coast for acrobatic lay-ups and powerful finishes. And on senior day, it was only fitting that Walker was the star, scoring 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting in a 71-58 Bona victory.

It marked just the third conference win of the season for the Bonnies (10-19, 3-11) after a magical run to the Sweet 16 last season. Graduating four seniors hurt Bona in the leadership department.

With only one senior in the starting lineup following Chelsea Bowker’s injury, the bed was made.

“This isn’t where we wanted to be on March 3, 2013, but it is where we’re at,” Crowley said. “I’m glad we could get a win for this kid sitting next to me (Alaina) whose given so much to the program that we could at least send her out on a positive note.”

Right.

Walker has proved invaluable to the Brown and White’s success over the course of her four-year career. While it was Jessica Jenkins, Megan Van Tatenhove and Armelia Horton who received much of the accolades, Bona would not have had as much success without the play of Walker.

“Alaina has the greatest skill we could ever ask for in a player,” Crowley said. “And it’s effort. Effort is a skill and she has it. She’s exactly what we want our players to be like.”

A member of the Atlantic 10 Conference’s All-Defensive Team, Walker helped shut-down opposing guards and forwards alike, keeping Bona ranked in the top half of the conference on defense.

The 5-foot-9 guard racked up 107 steals, 38 blocks and dished out 190 assists during her time with the Bonnies. However, with just 1:23 left in regulation against La Salle, Walker jumped high into the air and corralled her fifth rebound of the contest.

Why is that rebound significant?

It was career rebound No. 600, making her just the 10th St. Bonaventure player to reach that mark as she averaged 4.8 rebounds per game over her career.

Even more impressive?

Only one St. Bonaventure player grabbed 600 plus rebounds and was shorter than the 5-foot-9 Walker. That player was Missy Ward who was 5-foot-8.

“I just do what I do best,” Walker said laughingly. “That’s one of my assets, rebounding. On both ends of the floor, so I tried to keep that going throughout my career here.”

But just like her coach who fought his way through three consecutive nine-win seasons and subsequent one-year contracts to turn the program into a winner, Walker has fought to make herself a better player.

Turn the page to her freshman season and Walker was rarely a threat to take a mid-range jumper. Even last season the sight of her pulling up may have brought groans from the crowd, but this year has been different.

Walker turned in a career-high 21 points against UMass and unveiled a lethal mid-range jumper that helped bump her scoring average in Atlantic 10 play from 6.4 last season to 10.7 points per game this year.

“She scored the ball in high school, but struggled on how to carry that over,” Crowley said of his senior starter. “But she kept working to improve. She probably could have scored more the past few years, but she didn’t need to. She needed to play defense, grab rebounds and keep others involved.”

Selfless.

Walker did whatever was needed for the good of the team and Crowley said her battle with mononucleosis was what derailed Bona from qualifying for the A-10 Tournament to defend their crown.

“I still think this year is a heck of a lot different if mono doesn’t grab her halfway through our conference season,” Crowley said. “She’d come off her 21-point game against UMass, finding her rhythm and we were finding ours with her.”

While Bona never was able to find their groove and qualify or the A-10 Tournament, one can not discredit the impact Walker had on the program. She never relented no matter the score, no matter the record and did whatever was needed to win.

They say the team normally represents the attitude of the coach, but perhaps this time the coach represented the player.

Behind The Wolfpack: Bona Surging After Third Straight Victory

[Matthew Wright has rediscovered his lost stroke since dealing with his foot injury as he dropped 20 points in Bona’s 104-84 rout of Charlotte – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]

By Ryan Lazo, Editor in Chief, @RMLazo13

ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — It was around late February to early March of last season when the St. Bonaventure Bonnies finally hit their stride and lived up to their preseason billing and suddenly this years squad is beginning to revisit history.

Facing a Charlotte team that was among the three teams tied with Bona for ninth place in the Atlantic 10 Conference standings, the Bonnies came out of the locker room on a mission. Bona scored the game’s first four points and the 49ers never came any closer in a 104-83 rout at the Reilly Center.

The 104 points is tied for the most Bona (14-13, 7-7) has scored against an Atlantic 10 opponent and is the first time eclipsing the century mark since a 112-107 four overtime win against Ohio on Dec. 18, 2010.

“I thought in the first half, we could not have played any better,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt said after his team’s third straight victory. “We had a little bit of a let-down in the second half though.”

A little bit of a let-down may have been the only aspect wrong with St. Bonaventure’s dominating performance that surely captured some attention from around the league. The Brown and White connected at a season-high 58 percent clip and played stingy defense, limiting Charlotte (18-10, 6-8)  to just 38.7 percent shooting from the field.

It’s a performance that puts the rest of the A-10 Conference on notice.

While VCU, Saint Louis and Butler get most of the attention, and rightfully so, the defending A-10 Conference Champions are surging at the right time once again.

Charlotte learned of Bona’s penchant for going on second-half-of-the-season runs the hard way as the Brown and White barraged the 49ers with nine 3-pointers in the first half alone, connecting at a blistering 61 percent for the game — also tied for a season high.

But even with the win and statement it sent, Schmidt was not happy with the way his team finished the game.

“We talk about curbing,” Schmidt said. “It’s an IRA term about knock a guy down, open his mouth and knock his teeth out. That’s what you try to do when you have someone down and we didn’t curb them.”

That’s a scary thought for the rest of the league as the A-10 Tournament nears.

The Bonnies did not finish off Charlotte in the manner they would have preferred, but they still captured a dominating 21-point victory. And how did they accomplish that?

It starts with the play of Matthew Wright.

Wright’s importance to the Bona team has never been fully realized until the Bonnies began conference play by dropping their first four games while looking at a road trip to both Temple and Saint Joseph’s, a bad omen. Yet, Wright came out out of the shadows and scored 22 and 18 points respectively in the two Bona wins.

But a left foot injury slowed him down, limiting him to an average of just 17 minutes per game over the last four, not including missing two games against Butler and Duquesne. However, Wright is seemingly getting healthy and he showed it against the 49ers.

Wright followed up a Youssou Ndoye jump-hook with a mid-range jumper from the top of the key himself in the games opening minutes, giving him all the confidence he needed. The Toronto native would hit his first four shots of the game, three of which from beyond the arc as he compiled 20 points on the night, helping Bona pile on Charlotte.

“My high school coach said if you’re going to lace them up, there’s no excuses,” Wright said of dealing with his injury. “I told myself, ‘I’m going to play and I’m going to play as hard as I can’.”

But Wright is not the only player who is playing as hard as he can.

Eric Mosley has been garnering much of the attention over the past few weeks and for good reason. The reigning A-10 Player of the Week dropped in two 30-point games and a solid 16-point effort against Duquense.

However, the senior has continued to catch fire from beyond the arc as he connected on 5-of-8 3-point attempts en route to another 23-point performance against the 49ers. Mosley’s elevation of his game is leaving many to think back to how Andrew Nicholson elevated his game when Bona needed him most.

“I think we are playing more collectively as a team,” Mosley said after Bona racked up 22 assists against Charlotte. “But more importantly guys are making shots, but we have guys stepping up, like Dion tonight.”

Right.

Because it wasn’t just the usual suspects for the Brown and White during this victory. With Marquise Simmons and Youssou Ndoye both fouling out, someone needed to fill their minutes and Dion Wright proved to be more than a place-holder.

The freshman had not recorded a minute of game action since Feb. 6 at Butler, but there was no rust in his game. The 6-foot-7 forward proved agile around the basket, throwing down two dunks and recording two putbacks en route a career-high 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting.

With 10 Bona players cracking the scoresheet, this Bona team is confident as they hold sole possession of the ninth spot in the A-10 standings with just two games to go.

“Around this time last year we started to hit our peak,” Wright said. “We know how crucial that is going into the A-10 Tournament. So yea, I think we are starting to hit our stride.”

Scoring an average of 93 points over their three-game winning streak, a message has been sent to the rest of the league — The defending champions were not curbed and now they aim to repeat recent history with another magical finish.

Behind The Wolfpack: Mosley’s Historic Night Snaps Bona Skid

[Eric Mosley races up the court for two of is career-high 39 points, helping Bona capture a 99-94 victory over UMass Wednesday night – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]

By Ryan Lazo, Editor in chief, @RMLazo13

ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — After suffering two overtime defeats in the past week and dropping to 12th in the Atlantic 10 Conference standings, St. Bonaventure needed to snap their recent malaise with a victory.

And these Bonnies came out with urgency and determination right from the opening whistle, taking a 7-2 lead over the University of Massachusetts-Amherst just two minutes into the game.

It was a harbinger of events to unfold as Bona used a devastating offensive attack en route to earning a 99-94 victory at the Reilly Center, just their second win in their last seven games at home.

“I couldn’t be any prouder of my guys,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said. “We got down a little in the second half, but we didn’t cave in. We found a way and that’s what you need to do.”

Schmidt’s correct.

The Bonnies (12-13, 5-7) needed to find a way to defeat UMass after comically finding every which way to lose a basketball game. But Schmidt’s club is not filled with wide-eyed youngsters, but battle-tested seniors playing out their last games.

And it was the Brown and White’s seniors who helped down the Minutemen (16-9, 6-6) for the second-consecutive match-up dating back to last year’s A-10 Semifinal contest.

But on this night, no senior shined brighter than the smallest player on the Bona roster — Eric Mosley.

The 5-foot-10 guard entered the contest averaging 22 points per game over the past three contests, but his effort against the Minutemen was historic.

Mosley scored a career-high 39 points on 12-for-18 shooting, scoring the most points by a Bona player in a regulation game since Greg Sanders’ 46-point effort in 1977 against Detroit. It also marked the most points scored by a Bona player against an Atlantic 10 opponent.

“I can’t really explain it,” Mosley said after his career day. “My teammates looked at me and I just tried to make plays.”

But Mosley hasn’t just tried to make plays — he’s made plays and at a frequent clip.

Last season, the Bona faithful were witness to the brilliance of Andrew Nicholson as he developed ice-water in his veins, coming up big when the Bonnies needed it most.

While it would be unfair to compare the two, Mosley is giving his best impression. With Bona needing a clutch shot at Rhode Island, it was Mosley nailed a fadeaway 3-pointer. With Bona needing a two to tie against La Salle, it was No. 2 hitting the shot to force overtime.

And with the hot-shooting, more minutes have come the senior’s way.

“Eric’s defending better,” Schmidt said of Mosley. “And that’s keeping him on the floor longer. And I’m no dummy. When someone is shooting the ball the way Eric has, then I can give in a little bit.”

But Mosley was not alone in Bona’s highest scoring regulation game since scoring 101 in a loss to Ohio in the 2002-03 season.

Chris Johnson has struggled recently because of foul problems, but the senior played smart in logging 38 minutes of game action and scoring a career-high 22 points while grabbing seven rebounds.

Johnson did not make a 3-pointer on the night, but adjusted his game plan and aggressively took the attack to the Minutemen, driving the basket for acrobatic lay-ups and tear drops.

With each swoosh of the nylon, Johnson grew more and more animated: pumping his fists, unleashing a Tarzan-like yell and a trademark jump and fist pump, showing the true importance of this game.

“It’s the urgency of being a senior,” Johnson said. “You only got however amount of opportunities left in this gym and just looking at the playoff picture. We needed this win, so I came with a high energy level.”
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And that urgency was also shown on the stat-sheet after Demitrius Conger posted his third double-double of the season after scoring 16 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing out four assists.

But even more importantly was the team-effort Bona showed, especially at the line where the Brown and White proved that they are the No. 1 free throw shooting team in the conference.

Bona shot 32-for-33 from the charity stripe, missing just one shot on the night for a mind-blowing 97 percent.

“No. Nope. I haven’t,” Derek Kellogg said in reply to whether he had ever seen a shooting performance like that.

But Bona fans have seen a game like this before.

Turn the clock back to last year when Saint Joseph’s visited the Reilly Center. The Hawks answered each Bona run, but the Brown and White always answered back and captured the victory.

In their final five games last season, Bona went 4-1 to nab the No. 4 seed in the A-10 Tournament.

While Bona won’t be grabbing a No. 4 seed, an end-of-the-season run could put them in good position after entering the game just two back out of the No. 6 position.

“Our record isn’t what it’s supposed to be,” Charlon Kloof said before practice on Monday. “We still have games left and still have a chance to get on our winning streak.”

If the Bonnies can get a winning streak together it may be deja vu all over again as the Brown and White head into the A-10 Tournament to defend their conference crown.

lazorm09@bonaventure.edu

Behind The Wolfpack: Bonnies Fall To La Salle, Face Uncertain Future

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[Demitrius Conger is helped up from the Reilly Center court as his 3-point attempt to tie the game falls short in overtime. St. Bonaventure falls to La Salle, 69-66 – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]

By Ryan Lazo, Editor in chief, @RMLazo13

ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — After roaring back from a 16-point first half deficit and tying the game in the final seconds of regulation to force overtime, this was a game St. Bonaventure needed to win.

La Salle, the only team in the Atlantic 10 Conference to defeat both VCU and Butler this season, were on their heels. The Bonnies trailed by three with just 2.8 seconds left when Eric Mosley was fouled on a 3-point attempt, giving him the chance to tie the game.

Mosley missed two of three free throws but with 1.8 seconds, Demitrius Conger received a long inbounds pass from Matthew Wright, turned and fired.

“It felt good,” Conger said after his 3-pointer went off back iron and bounced loudly in a stunned and quiet Reilly Center. “That’s the game.”

Conger’s three point look from the right wing would have forced overtime, but instead La Salle escaped with a 69-66 victory at the Reilly Center where St. Bonaventure (10-11, 4-6) has now lost five of six games.

This latest loss is the third consecutive to La Salle (17-6, 7-3) spanning the past three years, but this one hurts more than most.

“Our guys showed some toughness,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt said. “But at the same time it’s frustrating being so close and not being able to finish.”

Not being able to finish may come down to being the theme of the year for this Bona squad.

Bona has had no problem playing up to their competition, holding late leads against Ohio, Canisius and Xavier while playing VCU and Saint Louis tough. However, the problem has come down to finishing off a team, leaving the Bonnies in a precarious situation.

With just six games remaining in the A-10 season, each game is important and a win against the Explorers could have propelled them to the finish. And for a moment, it seemed just where this game was heading.

Mirroring last year’s February classic against St. Joseph’s, the Bonnies erased a nine-point deficit with just 6:24 remaining to tie the game on a Mosley mid-range jumper to force overtime. But the jolt of energy it gave the crowd did not carry over to the overtime period, leaving the Bonnies with a missed opportunity.

“It hurts, it’s a painful loss,” Chris Johnson said in a low, distraught tone. “Just knowing the importance of the game and seeing how hard our team fought to get back in it. We were just one possession away from taking it.”

Johnson is right.

This Bona team fought hard after a disappointing first half of play. La Salle made swiss cheese of the Bonnies’ No. 15 ranked 3-point defense, connecting on 7-of-14 in the first half. And those same Explorers boasted the league’s top-ranked 3-point defense, suffocating Bona into an 0-for-5 shooting first half from three.

Yet, Bona did not quit and instead followed the lead of their senior captain.

After attempting just one shot in the first half, Conger became more aggressive in the second on offense and defense. The senior grabbed four big defensive rebounds, helping limit La Salle to just five offensive boards in the second half.

Conger, knowing the 3-point shots would not fall, started to penetrate into the paint as he racked up five assists and scored nine of his 11 points in the second half. But Conger, ever the stat-sheet stuffer, also compiled two blocks and nabbed three steals, matching a season-high.

And the team followed suit, contesting La Salle’s 3-point shooters more and playing tighter defense, limiting the Explorers to just 28.6 percent shooting, including just 1-for-8 from beyond the arc.

“We dealt with some adversity, we overcame it and we had a shot,” Schmidt said of his team’s resilience. “The guys are never going to quit.”

Powerful words from Bona’s head man, but also the right ones.

This Bonnies squad has proven to have the heart of a defending champion, something that did not go unnoticed by La Salle’s Ramon Galloway.

“St. Bonaventure beat Temple at home and they beat Saint Joseph’s at home,” he said after the game. “A lot of people don’t win at those places so we already knew what we were up against.”

But now it’s the Bonnies who know what they are up against.

An updated look at the Atlantic 10 has St. Bonaventure barely holding on to the No. 12 spot in the A-10 standings, but are just two games out of the eighth spot.

Bona enters the last phase of their schedule with uncertainty and must figure out how to turn their resilient mindset into wins or else the defending A-10 Champions may not make it to Brooklyn.


Lazorm09@bonaventure.edu

Behind The Wolfpack: Bonnies Receive A Boost From Gathers, Drop Duquesne

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[Charlon Kloof draws the Duquesne defense into the middle of the paint during St. Bonaventure’s 68-60 victory in the Reilly Center – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]

By Ryan Lazo, Editor in chief, @RMLazo13

ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — If St. Bonaventure wants a chance to defend their Atlantic 10 Conference Championship in Brooklyn, these are the games they need to win.

The Duquesne Dukes entered the Reilly Center holding an eight-game losing streak and were the only team in the Atlantic 10 to still be winless. The Dukes also had not won in the Reilly Center since 2009, making them the perfect recipe to get the Bonnies going.

And the Brown and White certainly feasted on the Dukes, early and often, in a game that was never in doubt, winning 68-60 in front of 4,991 boisterous fans.

“I think you saw a team in St. Bonaventure that has won a championship and kind of pulled that game out down the stretch with experience and we did not,” Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said after his team’s ninth straight defeat.

While the Bonnies (10-10, 3-4) do have experience on their side, they also suffered a blow before the game even began when Matthew Wright was ruled out due to a left foot injury.

The junior sharpshooter had propelled Bona to two historic victories in Philadelphia with his 3-point shooting prowess. Wright went 6-for-10 from three in the victories over Temple and Saint Joseph’s and is shooting a blistering 57 percent in A-10 games, but his replacement had the answer.

“We need other guys stepping up,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt said of his team. “And that’s the sign of a good team and hopefully it can continue.”

And in Wright’s absence, it was Jordan Gathers who put his stamp on the game with back-to-back buckets, seemingly turning back the clock to the player who helped the Bonnies to an A-10 title.

“Once you hit your first shot, the floor starts to open up and the basket starts to get bigger,” Gathers said after his 5-for-5 shooting night for a career-high 13 points. “I just felt comfortable out there shooting it today.”

The Los Angeles native’s outburst could not have come at a better time for the Brown and White. Duquesne (7-14, 0-7) made a conscious effort to key on Demitrius Conger and Chris Johnson, St. Bonaventure’s two leading scorers, and needed someone else to step up.

Conger was blanketed all night by the Dukes’ Kadeem Pantophlet, frustrating him to just a 2-for-8 shooting night for 11 points. To Ferry, it was the best defensive effort anyone has put on the senior out of Brooklyn.

“We did a tremendous job on Demitrius Conger, I think the best job anyone has done on him this year,” Ferry explained. “And then you get Jordan Gathers to hit three threes, and what does he have on the year now? Five, six? He hasn’t made them all year.”

And Ferry’s right.

Conger is the Brown and White’s biggest offensive weapon, making him the point of emphasis for opposing teams. But when a team has other players producing from out of nowhere, it’s the maturation of a team beginning to gel.

With unexpected production from Gathers, clutch 3-pointers from Michael Davenport and Charlon Kloof, Bona received production from everywhere they looked, a mark of a mentally tough squad stepping up when needed.

Even Eric Mosley got into the act, scoring 14 points on 5-for-11 shooting, including 4-for-7 from 3-point range.

“When we’ve won we shot the ball,” Schmidt said. “Saint Joseph’s, Temple, today. We made some tough shots and when we shoot it, we have a chance to win.”

Truth be told, it’s very hard to lose when you shoot 12-for-22 from 3-point range on the game for an absurd 54.5 percent. And it’s even tougher when you dominate the boards by a 35 to 24 margin.

It’s a recipe for success and with just nine games left, four of those at home, Bona needs to win out. After suffering through the most difficult stretch of their schedule — St. Bonaventure was the only team in the A-10 to play all of the top-4 teams in the preseason poll in their first six games — the opportunity is in front of them.

While Bona still has to play some tough teams including La Salle, Butler, UMass and Charlotte — three of those are within the friendly confines of the Reilly Center.

“We had five games left in the Reilly Center and we want to be 5-0,” Schmidt said of his team’s goal. “You can’t accomplish that without being 1-0 and that was the goal today.”

If they accomplish that goal, Bona will be able to defend their A-10 title in Brooklyn. And as we’ve seen last year and this season, if the Brown and White get hot at the right time and shoot a blistering percentage from outside, they can beat anyone.

Whether they get the chance to step foot on the court at the Barclays Center will come down to defending their home court and receiving contributions from everyone — becoming the mentally tough team they have shown glimpses of being.

Behind The Wolfpack: Bonnies Face Daunting Task After Loss To Xavier

[Chris Johnson races to the hoop during St. Bonaventure’s 66-64 loss to Xavier in a Atlantic 10 Championship game rematch – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]

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By Ryan Lazo, Co-editor in chief/feature columnist, @RMLazo13


ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. If there was any chance for St. Bonaventure to break out of their worst funk in six years, this was the time.

A rematch of last year’s Atlantic 10 Championship game against a Xavier team that was not quite itself and was dealt a blow by having to play without Dee Davis.

And for a moment, it seemed the Bonnies would once again be able to topple perennial A-10 power Xavier when two free throws by Chris Johnson gave Bona a five-point lead with just 4:40 remaining.

But, even though the players have changed, one thing never does for Xavier — their heart. Across their chest is the name of a school that has reached seven straight NCAA Tournaments and reached the Sweet 16 in four of the last five seasons.

In other words, they have the heart of a champion.

And those Musketeers attacked St. Bonaventure with everything they had and left the Reilly Center with a come-from-behind 66-64 victory, a loss that leaves Bona gasping for air.

“There’s no embarrassment in losing that game,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt said solemnly. “It’s just frustrating to be so close and not being able to make the plays at the end.”

But not making the plays at the end is becoming an alarming trend for St. Bonaventure (7-9, 0-3).

Earlier this season, Bona held a seven-point lead with seven minutes to go at Canisius and ended up losing the game on a missed final shot. The same happened at Arkansas State where Bona held a late lead to watch it evaporate in a matter of seconds.

Just one additional play made and this Bonnies season would have an entirely different vibe to it. But instead, players are left to shake their heads at what’s quickly becoming a frustrating season.

“It’s another loss. It’s another close one,” Johnson said following the loss to Xavier (10-6, 3-0). “It’s the same feeling at Canisius where we had the game at hand only to not execute down the stretch. We have to learn how to close out games.”

But if they haven’t learned yet, when will they learn?

Three games into the Atlantic 10 schedule and Bona is in the basement, looking up at a league that is a lot stronger than last season.

“Anytime you can win on the road, in this conference, it’s special,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said after his team’s win. “It’s not easy to do.”

Mack’s right about that.

From the top of the Atlantic 10 all the way to the bottom, any team can beat you. And that fact makes the rest of the season a daunting task for this Bonnies team.

While no one expected Bona to be a heavy weight once again, it also wasn’t expected to see the defending A-10 Champions taking such a precipitous fall.

Talent is all over the roster and in the past two games — two tough losses to VCU and Xavier — it’s easy for everyone to see.

“I think we’re getting better,” Schmidt said of his team on a six-game losing streak. “We got to learn how to win. We have to put ourselves in a situation where we can pull out a close game in the Atlantic 10.”

And slowly, but surely this Bona team is taking the steps to do just that.

Much like Xavier earlier this season when they lost four out five, this Bonnies squad is learning how to gel. Different players in unfamiliar roles has them learning the ABCs all over again, but they are starting to recite it.

Demitrius Conger is always a constant in the Bona offense as he tallied 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Meanwhile, Eric Mosley always graces the scoresheet with his 3-point prowess as he finished with 13 points.

But the man in the middle made the biggest impact of all.

Youssou Ndoye will never be Andrew Nicholson, but the impact he can have on games is very Nicholson-esqe.

In a span of 13 seconds, Ndoye made sure no Xavier player would drive down the lane without looking at his rear-view mirror after two emphatic rejections brought the Reilly Center crowd to life.

“Coach told me I needed to contest shots, not to let them lay the ball up every time,” Ndoye said of his mindset. “So I kinda just wanted to be more aggressive on the defensive end.”

But the 6-foot-11 sophomore also was aggressive on offense.

Ndoye set a career-high with 16 points on 7-for-8 shooting, using a hook-shot that Nicholson patented during his time in the Brown and White.

The Senegal native paced a Bona offense that shot 52.3 percent from the field, becoming just the third team to shoot over 50 percent against Xavier this year.

“He’s young, he’s still learning,” Schmidt said. “It’s still a process. He’s going to be a good player. He has a lot of room to improve, so that’s a positive.”

While Schmidt was discussing Ndoye, he might as well have said the same thing about his Bona squad.

They have talent and have proven they can compete against the top-tier teams in the A-10, but the question becomes how quickly can they change the word from compete to defeat.

For their season’s sake, it has to be sooner rather than later.

lazorm09@bonaventure.edu

Behind The Wolfpack: Conger Shines, Bonnies Show Heart In Loss To VCU

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[Demitrius Conger and St. Bonaventure attacked VCU’s havoc defense, but fell to the No. 24 ranked Rams, 72-65 – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]

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By Ryan Lazo, Co-editor in chief/feature columnist, @RMLazo13

ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y.Coming off of four straight losses of at least 19 points, St. Bonaventure looked to be a dead in the water as Virginia Commonwealth University traveled to the Reilly Center for their first Atlantic 10 Conference road game.

But the team that was similar to zombies in The Walking Dead disappeared in favor of a Bona team that did not relent until the final whistle blew.

And when that final whistle blew, the Bonnies’ (7-8, 0-2) effort was not enough as No. 24 VCU held on for a 72-65 victory in front of 4,675 fans curious to see if Bona could take down a ranked team.

“Against VCU, you can’t take a step back, you can’t blink, you have to attack,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt said after his team’s fifth straight loss. “There are no moral victories but our guys played hard and that’s the beginning. Hopefully we can build on it.”

Schmidt is right on part of his statement.

There are moral victories to be had. Let’s wander back to last season, the last time a ranked team visited to the Reilly Center.

While the Bonnies fell to the Temple Owls, the loss seemingly propelled them to an incredible run through the rest of the A-10 slate, culminating in the program’s first-ever A-10 Championship.

No one is proclaiming the same will happen to this year’s Bona squad, but they showed enough promise to stop the doomsday predictions floating around the program.

After allowing opponents to have a field day shooting the ball over the past four games, the Bonnies’ made VCU work on every possession to score. While the Rams finished the game by shooting 52 percent, Bona was able to guard the 3-point line effectively.

“We played a really hard fought game on Wednesday against Dayton and I felt like today, against St. Bonaventure, this one was even tougher,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said after the Bonnies’ forced 15 turnovers and held the Rams to just 29 percent from three. “They did a good job of coming at us and blew up some of the stuff we do on the offensive end.”

The aggressive nature of the Bonnies caught VCU off guard. Instead of playing tentatively, Bona attacked the famed havoc defense that averages 13 steals a game. And by the first media timeout, it was apparent Bona came to play.

“We feel like we finally found our heart,” Matthew Wright said after his 3-for-6 shooting for 10 points off the bench. “We got it back. We have to know that this is the bare 
minimum we can play. We have to play hard no matter what.”

It was a strong statement from a Bona guard that was among the returning players from last year’s tournament winning team. The fact that this team had either grown complacent or just didn’t have the mental fortitude to fight through bad starts is a trend that needs to be reversed.

And it’s quite possible that facing a team of VCU’s caliber was the medicine this team needed.

“Every team in this league is good,” Schmidt said after the loss. “We got to play hard in order to give ourselves a chance to win it at the end.”

With 3:46 remaining in the game, Bona found itself trailing by the biggest deficit in the game — 13. But instead of falling over like they have recently, the Bonnies’ roared back with 3-pointers and turnovers, giving them a chance at the end.

One of the main reasons they had that chance was once again, the play of Demitrius Conger. He scored 19 points on 5-for-10 shooting, including 4-for-6 from 3-point range, while dishing out three assists.

But even more important was where those numbers placed him in program history. The Bonnies’ captain became just the third player in program history to record 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 200 assists in a career.

With a player like him leading the way, the Bonnies will always have a chance. And if they shoot 11-for-25 from 3-point range for 44 percent, they will be tough to beat.

While they were dominated in the paint by a 32 to 18 margin and killed on the offensive glass — allowing 11 boards for 16 second chance points, Bona never gave up. image

It’s a point that did not go unnoticed by the Rams’ coach.

“I think St. Bonaventure is going to give a lot of teams trouble and they are going to win their share of games in this league,” the Final Four participating coach said.

And it’s true.

While Bona has played poorly of late, think back to the beginning of the season when the defense wasn’t being sliced like swiss cheese. Think back to those dramatic wins against Buffalo and Niagara.

The never-say-die spirit that emboldened last year’s team when they sat at just 2-3 on the season after losing to Arkansas State came out again. It’s the same spirit they showed when they won eight of their last 10 games to make the NCAA Tournament.

“We always talk about playing each possession like it’s your last,” Schmidt said. “At times we may have given in a bit, but I can tell you we didn’t give in today.”

Bona gave VCU all it can handle by not giving in, but whether is was an 
aberration or a sign of things to come remains to be seen.