Behind The Wolfpack: Bonnies Swarm Cleveland State In A Rout


[Demitrius Conger and St. Bonaventure race past Cleveland State in a dominating 87-53 victory – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]


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

ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y.Fresh off of a loss at Arkansas State, St. Bonaventure took to the floor at the Reilly Center to avenge two consecutive losses to Cleveland State and what followed stunned everyone.

The Bonnies (6-3) dominated the game from the opening minute of action and overwhelmed a young, but talented Vikings (6-4) squad without their starting forward for a 87-53 victory.

But even if Anton Grady suited up, nothing would have changed.

Bona lost the opening tip and not much else. After falling behind 1-0 just 38 seconds into the game, Charlon Kloof raced up the court, nailed a 3-pointer and was fouled to complete a four-point play, putting Bona ahead for the rest of the afternoon.

“It gives our guys confidence,” Bonnies’ coach Mark Schmidt said after his team’s biggest victory since last year’s rout of Fordham. “I think they realize and see that if we rebound and defend, we can be pretty good.”

Pretty good might be an understatement. It should be scary good because that’s how this Bona team looked in front of the 3,223 fans in the Reilly Center.

Cleveland State won over 100 games over the past four seasons, but St. Bonaventure’s pressure defense, clean switches and good communication held the Vikings without a field goal for the first 9:10 of the game.

And it was a defense, one that forced 20 turnovers, that fueled an offense that scored 87 points total, a season-high.

“Defense is everything,” Schmidt said after his team scored 26 points off of turnovers. “It’s the catalyst that got us going offensively. I’ve preached it since I’ve been here, you win by playing defense.”

But when you shoot 53.6 percent for the game and have 11 different players crack the score sheet, you are also tough to deal with offensively.

Leading the way for Bona was Demitrius Conger who recorded a double-double with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting and grabbing 11 rebounds, including five on the offensive glass.

It was not a surprising effort from the co-captain. Conger routinely fills up the stats sheets and does the little things needed to win. His calmness on the court and humbleness off of it belies the talent he possesses.

However, it was Charlon Kloof’s performance that really sank Cleveland State’s hopes from the get-go. Kloof scored Bona’s first seven points of the game and ended with 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range.

The aggressiveness that has been lacking early this season resurfaced, leaving Kloof looking more like the point guard that set a career-high in points with 18 points against Saint Joseph’s during the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

“There was going to be no way of us losing the game by not giving effort,” Kloof said after the game. “We came in the game giving effort, bringing energy. The preparation was really good.”

Perhaps no one brought more energy to the game than Michael Davenport. After struggling through the early slate of the season, not even remotely resembling the player that brought fans to their feet, the senior found the touch.

Missing an entire season surely made Davenport rusty, but he also didn’t have his trademark explosiveness — until now. Soaring high over the rim, the Cincinnati native grabbed an offensive board that led to a Bona bucket.

But he was not done.

Davenport picked off an inbounds pass, threw up the court to Matthew Wright as he drained a buzzer-beating jumper before half. And nothing created more excitement than seeing the senior soar through the air for his trademark dunk.

“Losing the last two games that we played against them, it was kind of like payback,” Davenport said. “That was the theme. Coach Moore preached payback all week and that’s something coach Schmidt elaborated on. We wanted to get that bad taste out of our mouths.”

The bad taste is out of their mouths now and it’s replaced instead with a swagger, especially when in the confines of the Reilly Center. Bona has now won 20 out of their last 22 home games, creating an aura that has been missed.

But they are also confident because of the depth they have. image

Four players scored in double-digits, including a career day for Youssou Ndoye. The sophomore forward recorded 13 points on 3-for-4 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds — both career-highs.

Ndoye routinely changed the Vikings’ shot attempts by just his mere presence and to highlight his impact, he recorded two blocks and picked up three steals.

Even Dion Wright got into the action with a perfect 3-for-3 shooting day for nine points, including a corner three. Cleveland State lost by 34 points even after holding Bona’s leading scorer — Chris Johnson — to just two points on the afternoon.

It was not lost on Vikings’ head coach Gary Waters.

“They got a good team, guys,” Waters said to the media of the Bonnies. “They’re going to compete in the Atlantic 10. They just have to believe in themselves and they will compete.”

Waters is right.

This Bona team is talented enough to compete in the Atlantic 10. Their 34-point victory against CSU will turn heads but to keep that attention, Bona needs to consistently bring their best, something we haven’t seen from the Brown and White.

Behind The Wolfpack: Bonnies’ Chris Johnson Take On Role Of Senior Leader

[Chris Johnson drives for two of his 14 points in St. Bonaventure’s win over Buffalo – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]


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

*originally published on and published here with permission

ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — Imagine sitting out of basketball for one whole season then suffering an injury during the preseason the next year, limiting your ability to practice with the team.

That’s exactly what happened to St. Bonaventure’s senior forward Chris Johnson.

The Nova Scotia native played Junior College Basketball at Kilgore College for two seasons before sitting out a season and joining the Bonnies.

The year off took a toll on Johnson — he wasn’t in shape, couldn’t pick up the system and his mind was not where it needed to be.

“Taking the year off away from basketball, I wasn’t even thinking about basketball,” the 6-foot-5 Johnson said before practice. “I was thinking about family duties, how to provide for my family and help out my mom. Last year was so much to take in.”

And it showed on the court.

Johnson played sparingly through the team’s first seven contests, recording just 24 minutes of game action, but an injury to Michael Davenport against Canisius opened an opportunity and he didn’t miss it.

Playing a then career-high 25 minutes, Johnson unveiled an uncanny ability to use his quickness to get to the hoop for acrobatic scores and a soft touch from the outside. His 19 points led the Bonnies in a 81-62 thrashing of the Golden Griffins.

“I came in behind the eight-ball,” Johnson said following the game. “It took me some time to get my feet under me, but that’s coming around now with my conditioning.”

Over the course of last season, Johnson became a more confident player and his impact on games improved.

“Last year, it was a learning experience for him,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said before practice. “He wasn’t in great shape and he was learning the system.”

But the key for Johnson was getting back into game shape. The more time he spent in the gym, the more practices he was able to participate in — the better he became.

“You lose your timing, you lose your legs, you lose your competitiveness,” Schmidt said of Johnson missing a year. “It’s one thing if you’re playing in the church league, but you’re playing high-level basketball and it’s hard to get the chip on your shoulder back.”

With the departure of Andrew Nicholson and Da’Quan Cook, two senior leaders who combined for 26 points per game , Schmidt looked to Johnson to fill the void.

Through eight games, Johnson is the team’s leading scorer at 15.8 points per game and he has tied a career-high 19 points on four separate occassions this season.

“We knew that he had it in him,” Schmidt said of Johnson’s impact on the court. “We just didn’t know when it was going to show.”

Johnson is seemingly a different player for this Bona squad. When the jump-shots are not falling and all the team can hear is the clank of the rim, Johnson immediately takes over.

Instead of firing up outside shots, the senior uses his quickness to get to the hoop for easy buckets or at least draw a foul to stop the clock and momentum.

“He understands that he’s a senior and this is his last go-around,” Schmidt said. “He’s matured. He has a good IQ for the game and he understands there are times that we need him for a jump-shot and other times a drive to the basket.”

This was never more evident than in Bona’s last game, a loss on the road to Arkansas State. The Red Wolves were threatening to run the Bonnies out of the building as every trip down the court ended in a jump-shot missing off iron.

But Johnson knew the he could help stop the momentum by going to the basket and he did just that. And by following his lead, Bona was able to claw their way back into a game that could have been a blow-out.

In fact, to show how much confidence Schmidt has in the player who recorded two coach’s DNPs last season, a play was drawn up for him to have the winning shot. Tied at 70-70, Schmidt’s play worked to perfection as Johnson had a great look at the basket from the corner beyond the arc, but it fell short.

The 46 percent 3-point shooter has grown into a senior leader. He doesn’t talk much, but instead leads by example.

“I’m not really someone who considers themself a leader, I just try to do everything that’s right,” Johnson explained. “If you want to follow me, then good, but I’m going to get in the gym and work out. I’m going to listen to the coaches and come here to get treated. That’s just things you do when you try to be successful.”

By any measure, Johnson has been successful this season. It would be a nightmare scenario to think where Bona would be without their most dangerous weapon, but even scarier is Johnson’s commitment to get better.

“I’m continually working on my body, trying to get more athletic and stronger,” Johnson said. “I’m shooting 70 percent from the foul line, that’s hard to look at. Every area needs improvement. I’m not satisfied.”

Johnson’s drive and determination to improve his play will continue to help Bona out throughout the season. While the team may no longer have Nicholson to turn to, another talented and quiet leader is emerging in No. 23.

Behind The Wolfpack: Bona Defense Leads To Victory Over Siena


[The St. Bonaventure Bonnies cruised to a 58-43 win over Siena, forcing them into 17 turnovers – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]


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

ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — St. Bonaventure may have the talent to score at will prompting cheers from the fans in the Reilly Center but in last night’s game against Siena, all they heard was the clank of the rim.

The ball clanked, banged and hit the rim a total of 37 times as the Bonnies only shot 35.1 percent from the field, yet they defeated Siena 58-43 to retain The Franciscan Cup for the third consectuive year.

How is that possible?

Because this team knows how to play defense. In fact, over the final 8:09 of the second half, the Bonnies (5-2) held Siena (2-7) to just three points the rest of the way.

“This is the prime example of stressing to your team that defense has to be the staple,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said following the lowest amount of points his team surrendered since Nov. 20, 2009. “Offense is fickle. Jump-shooting is fickle. If you defend and take care of the basketball, you have a chance to win.”

An offense being fickle would be an understatement for this night.

It seemed for much of the game, Bona was so inept offensively that they couldn’t hit net if it fell on top of them. And knowing full well it was one of those nights that threatened to put basketball back into the 1920s, Charlon Kloof took control of the defense.

In his second season with St. Bonaventure, Kloof has shown the shut-down ability he has on defense. Much like Darelle Revis does in the NFL, Kloof does on the basketball court.

With his long arms, quick feet and determination, Kloof routinely shuts down the opposing team’s best guard.

“He has a gift,” Schmidt said after Kloof held Siena’s Evan Hymes to 5 points on just 2-for-10 shooting. “He has that mentality. He wants to be a stopper. When we play good defense, it starts at the point guard position.”image

And it’s the willingness to take on the challenge of guarding the opposing team’s best player that fueled Kloof’s desire to play basketball in the states.

“The first reason I came to America was because of all the great guards,” Kloof said after his 8-point, two assists and two steal effort. “I enjoy it. I enjoy slowing them down.”

But Kloof had help on the defensive side of the ball. Seven different Bona players recorded a steal on the night — Bona had eight in total — with Jordan Gathers being a spark plug off the bench.

Even though the sophomore guard played just 13 minutes, he was able to record a steal and force Siena into a turnover off of an inbounds trap play.

“They’re a great defensive team,” Siena head coach Mitch Buonaguro said after his team’s 17 turnover effort. “They played us well, forced us into mistakes. We knew going in they were a good defensive team.”

But you can’t win without scoring and Bona’s senior captain took care of that with a stat-sheet stuffing of a night.

Demitrius Conger shot just 4-for-11 from the field, but he was able to rack up 14 points, grab eight rebounds, dish out four assists, block two shots and topped it all off with one steal.

Conger put his importance to the team on display in the nationally televised game, showcasing how he can affect the game in many different ways as he played the full 40 minutes.

While the team has confidence in their senior leader, having a defense that can win games also helps.

“I told the guys in the locker room that we shot 2-for-20 from 3-point range and still won by 15,” Schmidt said. “Each year you are going to have nights where you don’t shoot the ball well and the good teams win those games because they defend.”

On their two poorest shooting nights of the season, at Cornell where they shot just 41 percent and against Siena, Bona earned victories.

Luckily for the Bonnies, there is no BCS system in college basketball. They don’t have to be pretty, you just have to get the win. And with a defense that never relents, Bona can have the confidence to know they can overcome the most tragic of offensive performances.

Behind The Wolfpack: Bonnies Rally Late To Defeat Buffalo


[Demitrius Conger races down the court for a dunk after a steal, helping St. Bonaventure to a 82-79 win over Buffalo – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]


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

ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – Chris Johnson stepped up to the free throw line and attempted a foul shot, but the ball slipped out of his hands, prompting a referee’s whistle to blow.

A lane violation.

Johnson then missed his next attempt and suddenly the Reilly Center had a pin stuck in its balloon. It seemed St. Bonaventure was on their way to another crushing loss, but with 1:20 remaining and trailing by three, Demitrius Conger made a big-time play.

Conger read an ill-fated pass from the Bulls Will Regan and took it down the court for a slam inciting a near riot from the 4,485 fans in the Reilly Center.

“I looked at the play and I just tried to anticipate it,” Conger said after his huge steal and dunk. “And luckily he threw it.”

But Bona was not in the clear yet.

They still trailed by one with 1:03 remaining and that’s when Matthew Wright locked in on defense, jabbed at the ball and came away with another steal.

He immediately raced up the court, pursued by two Bulls (2-7) defenders, and put Bona up by one, 80-79.

The Reilly Center literally began to shake in celebration. And following a timeout, Conger picked up another theft, clinching the victory.

Facing a bleak scenario, the Bonnies (4-2) leaned on their failure to win at Ohio and defeated the Bulls 82-79 in dramatic fashion.

“They’re an outstanding team,” Buffalo coach Reggie Witherspoon said of the Bonnies. “They’re a really energetic team that plays hard. He’s got a good team.”

And that is the key word – team.

No longer is this Bona squad a one man show, but instead they have multiple players who can beat you on any given night. Against the Bulls, nine Bona players made a dent on the score sheet, including four who reached double-digits.

“That’s how we’re going to win, we’re going to do it collectively,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt said of his team. “It’s going to be a different guy every night.”

On this night, no one’s star shined brighter than the senior captain.

Conger’s talents have flickered across stat sheets before – the near triple-double against UMass comes to mind – and it did so again.

While he scored a team-high 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting, his best output of the season, it was the calmness he displayed in the final minute that set him apart.

When the team looked to be on the verge of imploding, he took control and breathed some life into his battle-scarred teammates. And the team responded, especially Wright.image

“Coach always gets on me for jogging my lane,” Wright said after his 11-point effort on 5-for-10 shooting. “I sprinted ahead and (Marquise) found me.”

And the Bonnies surely did a lot of sprinting.

Each time they had a chance, they raced down the court to a tune of 23 fast break points – a season high. Bona players are also wanted for theft after picking the Bulls’ pockets for 12 steals resulting in 21 points off of turnovers.

But there is still a glaring weakness in this team. After finishing last season ranked 13th in the nation in free throw percentage, they shot just 57.9 percent from the line (22-for-38) on the night.

“When the first guy goes up there and misses two, it becomes contagious,” Schmidt said of his team’s struggles. “We’re going to continue to work on it, but we have good shooters.”

Luckily for the Bonnies, winning is also contagious. And with an unselfish approach on offense, lockdown defense and a gritty attitude, this Bona squad can continue to pile on the wins anyway they can.

Behind The Wolfpack: Bonnies Can’t Overcome History, Fall To Canisius

[Matthew Wright soars for two of his season-high 14 points in St. Bonaventure’s 72-69 loss to Canisius – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]

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

BUFFALO, N.Y. – St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt called a timeout with 40 seconds remaining, aiming to draw up a play that would put his team on top of Canisius in the waning seconds.

Over the past four years, there was no decision to make for Schmidt — he had Andrew Nicholson to give the ball to — but no more. There was now a mystery as to who would get the ball on the crucial possession.

However, Canisius countered with a zone, changing the entire play before the Bonnies had a chance. Schmidt barked out his zone offense call, and Charlon Kloof’s 3-pointer went off the back iron, and the Griffins had the ball.

“I think I was the only person in the gym who wanted to go into the zone, my assistants thought I was crazy,” Canisius head coach Jim Baron said after his team’s 72-69 victory in front of a sold-out crowd in the Koessler Athletic Center. “As you coach, you have some instincts, and I said I’ll take the hit.”

And once Matthew Wright’s desperation 3-pointer clanked off the right side of the cylinder, the Bona faithful went silent, Canisius fans roared and Baron was a genius.

St. Bonaventure (2-1) dropped its sixth straight contest at Canisius (2-0) with the team’s last win coming during the 1995 season.

“We didn’t take care of the ball and didn’t do a good job of guarding them in the second half,” Schmidt said of his team’s 19 turnovers. “On the road, you cannot do that. They deserved to win.”

Sure, the Bonnies did turn the ball over 19 times, but that was not the difference in the game. The Griffins only scored 12 points off of those turnovers.

The difference in the contest came on defense coupled with the offense failing to score a field goal from the 7:03 mark to 0:06 mark.

“More or less, we lost our edge on defense,” Wright said after his 14-point effort on 6-of-10 shooting. “I don’t think we had a problem scoring. We got whatever shot we wanted, but toward the end of the game, we couldn’t guard.”

Losing an edge on defense? Against one of your biggest rivals?

It shouldn’t have happened, but it did.

And inside the high school-like gym, the 2,196 fans created a hectic scene as they taunted players from their seats, seemingly rattling the Bona squad.

“There’s two baskets and a 10-foot rim — it really doesn’t matter where we play,” Chris Johnson said of the hostile atmosphere. “We got to win the game regardless of where we play.”

“We had no excuse —  it was like a home game for us,” Wright quickly added.

And the game seemed to turn on that timeout with 40 seconds left. Bona shot 50 percent from the field for the game and had four players in double digits, but Schmidt took out his biggest weapon at the most crucial point — Eric Mosley.

“They took Mosley out,” Baron said of the Bona guard who went 4-for-6 from 3-point range in a 14-point effort. “I thought he was their big shooter, and he left the point guard in.”

Without Nicholson on the bench, Schmidt had to go with his hot hand, but neither Mosley or Johnson, who was a perfect 3-for-3 from 3-point range, were given a chance to bring the Bonnies back.

St. Bonaventure may have a lot of players who are capable of scoring, but the question of who can be the go-to man down the stretch is still a mystery.

And on this night, it could have been Johnson or Mosley, but a critical coaching mistake cost the Bonnies a game they should have won. Tough losses emboldened last year’s squad, but what it will do to this year’s version remains very much a question.

Behind The Wolfpack: Bona Freshmen Provide Spark In Win

[Jessica Jenkins and Megan Van Tatenhove are just two of the seniors who have casted a shadow over St. Bonaventure’s freshman – Photo courtesy of]

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

Jim Crowley, his staff and players stood on the half court line on Bob Lanier Court in the Reilly Center as an Atlantic 10 regular season champions and Sweet 16 banners were raised to the rafters.

In their minds was the success of its past senior class, winners of 98 games – most in program history – and the ones who led the team to the NCAA Tournament for the first time.

While they are no longer suiting up for the Brown and White, their memory is everlasting in the product now seen on the court.

And the shadows of those players is casted entirely on the six freshmen entrusted to continue building on the foundation that is laid before them. In the season opener against Binghamton, the freshmen showed the promise of a brighter future mixed with immediate success.

The Bonnies (1-0) struggled early, falling behind 10-3, before utilizing a 30 to 6 run to take over the game and never looked back. The 61-34 victory tied a program record for  second fewest points allowed in a game and perhaps set the tone for the rest of the season.

“We didn’t start well and were settling for jump shots,” Crowley said following the game. “But I thought Emily and Tatiana came in and gave us a boost with their attacking ball pressure.”

Emily Michael, a freshman guard, entered the game in the middle of the first half and immediately made an impact. The 5-foot-8 guard zeroed in on Binghamton’s guards and did not let them out of her sight as she picked their pockets for two steals on the game.

“We work on defense all the time, and it’s really what we feed off of to get our offense going,” Michael said after her 2-for-6 shooting performance for 6 points. “The goal that I set for myself, and the team, was me bringing it on defense, and today it worked out.”

However, Michael was not the only freshman who made an impact. Katie Healy entered the game and utilized her height advantage in the interior.

Healy showed off a great post game, using quick pivots and surprising strength to put the ball in the basket. But she also showed some decent range, hitting shots from 15 feet out as well, similar to Megan Van Tatenhove.

The 6-foot-1 forward went 5-for-8 from the field for 12 points and nabbed seven rebounds to solidify her presence inside.

“My teammates and coaches said I needed to step it up,” Healy said modestly after the game. “And it’s all a credit to the post players that are on my team that go hard against me in practice. Through that I’m able to get better, and it shows on the court.”

Getting better in practice – a Crowley team staple. His teams are never going to be the most talented in the country, but they play the game the right away and execute to their strengths.

“We are never going to win the lay-up line,” Crowley said during last year’s run. “We’re not flashy, but we’re smart and do the little things.”

And it’s still the case with an entirely different team. Bona committed just seven turnovers in a game that 11 players saw game action, including five of the six freshmen.

While Crowley was pleased with the effort of his team, especially the freshmen, he is still the all-too-concerned coach.

“I have confidence in my team, and I have no confidence in my team,” ESPN’s National Coach of the Year said. “I know how good they are, but what I don’t have confidence is them showing they can do it all the time.”

But with the few returners pushing the freshmen in practice coupled with immediate success on the court, St. Bonaventure’s future is looking brighter than many assumed after losing four special seniors.

Behind The Wolfpack: New Era Begins For The Bonnies With A Win

[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.

Behind The Wolfpack: Bonnies Have The Talent To Surprise Again

[Charlon Kloof and Andrew Nicholson begin to celebrate St. Bonaventure’s first-ever Atlantic 10 Conference title – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]

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

Mark Schmidt walked up to the podium during his introductory press conference in 2007 and told the media hordes that he planned to have St. Bonaventure University basketball back on the map within five years.

Perhaps a trip to the local market to pick up a mega-millions ticket should be his next stop after proving his proclamation true last season. The Bonnies stunned everyone by capturing the program’s first-ever Atlantic 10 Conference title.

But after losing seniors Da’Quan Cook and Andrew Nicholson, expectations in Olean, N.Y. are considerably lower than last season.

Bona was selected to finish 11th in the preseason coaches’ poll and had no player represented on a preseason All-Conference team for the first time since 2008.

However, the players are striving to prove them wrong.

“Our guys want to prove that they were not a one-man show,” Schmidt said at the Big 4 Media Day. “That’s the chip on their shoulder. We need to make up for those 18 points and nine rebounds.”

And contrary to what many believe, it is possible for the Bonnies to surprise again.

Yes, it’s true that not only was Nicholson the best player in the A-10 but one of the best in the country.

But don’t forget about the team he had around him — a team that returns 10 letter winners from last season including five seniors. And one of those seniors is seemingly a forgotten man.

Michael Davenport had his season cut short after suffering a shoulder injury, but the shooting guard is being counted on by Bona’s head man.

“We’re expecting him to score the ball,” Schmidt said. “He has a chance to be a 1,000-point scorer, and we don’t have many of those throughout a career.”

And he is just one of the reasons why this St. Bonaventure team will exceed expectations and surprise once again.

Why the optimism?

Well, for starters this may possibly be the deepest team Bona has had in years. With a stable of guards that would make even Xavier blush, the Bonnies have the firepower to go shot-to-shot with the elite teams of the conference.

And it starts with the continued development of Demitrius Conger. Conger was second on the team in scoring last season, averaging 12.1 points per game and also grabbing 6.2 rebounds per game.

But it was the semi-final game against University of Massachusetts Amherst where he unveiled the potential he has.

In a game begging for someone to step up with Nicholson riding the pine because of foul trouble, it was Conger who took over. Utilizing an assortment of moves: hop-steps, up and unders and spin-moves, he was able to open up space in the lane for his own shot and set up others.

And when it was over, he finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists — just two assists shy of St. Bonaventure’s first triple-double.

But the depth doesn’t stop there.

Charlon Kloof took over the reins of point guard and gave Bona a weapon it didn’t have in years. Not only was Kloof able to find open teammates, but he could also create for himself.

Perhaps even more important was how he completely shut down opposing teams’ guards on defense.

Add in Jordan Gathers and Youssou Ndoye after one full year of experience under their belts, and this Bona team suddenly looks dangerous.

How dangerous?

Well, a finish in the top seven of the conference is not out of the question.

And as Bona fans found out last season, one weekend during the conference tournament can change everything.

St. Bonaventure may have lost their star in Nicholson, but the depth and talent of the team is more than enough to keep them well armed in defense of their A-10 title.