[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.
“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.