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.

lazorm09@bonaventure.edu

Column: Bowker’s Injury A Blow To The Bonnies

[Photo courtesy of gobonnies.com]

By Joseph Phelan, Staff Writer, @jphelan13

Injuries to star players and senior leaders can often cripple a team’s chances of surviving and the St. Bonaventure women’s basketball team is already behind the eight-ball.

Senior guard Chelsea Bowker, is set to undergo season-ending ankle surgery which will require at least six months of recovery time.

“It’s big,” Bonnies head coach Jim Crowley said. “Anytime you lose an experienced player and a talented player it is a big thing.”

Bowker was an integral member of the Bonnies Sweet 16 run last season when she averaged 7.1 points per game and shot 3-pointers at a 38 percent clip — second best on the team.

However, after rolling her ankle three weeks ago, she knew it was devastating.

“I went to the doctor and they said it was pretty bad right away,” she said emotionally. “I tried to go and I just couldn’t.”

But Bowker is not going to let the injury hamstring her from helping the team.

“I’m trying to turn this injury into something positive,” the senior said. “I can be on the sidelines to coach these freshmen.”

St. Bonaventure opens the season with an almost entirely different squad after hauling in six freshman. And with the latest injury, they will all be playing significant minutes.

“The freshmen are going to have to step up and help us out,” said junior forward Doris Ortega. “Right now, it is about us building confidence in the freshmen so they can fill Chelsea’s spot.”

And Bowker will be hard to replace.

The senior knew where to be at all times after playing in Crowley’s system and was able to stretch defenses with her 3-point shooting capabilities.

In fact, she ranks seventh all-time in St. Bonaventure history with 146 3-pointers made.

“We are going to need somebody to hit some jump shots cause that was obviously one of her most valuable things,” said Crowley.

Junior Ashley Zahn has now been in the program for three seasons and is someone that can conceivably get the first crack at Bowker’s spot.
Last year Zahn knocked down two threes against Villanova, and so far she has had a good beginning to the season by giving it her all in practice and impressing everyone from the coaching staff to Bowker.

“She has been killing it,” Bowker said of Zahn. “This is her chance to get up and shoot the ball. She just needs to keep her confidence up and put it in.”

It’s tough for any player to have to sit down with injuries, especially when they are a senior in Bowker’s case, but her teammates have helped her out throughout the process.

“They’ve been very supportive,” Bowker said. “We have to take in the best positive manner as we can.”

Despite losing a senior leader, the goals for this St. Bonaventure squad remain the same.

“What we are is what we are,” Crowley said. “People have to understand and build into some things quicker then we thought maybe they have to, but they are up for it.”

And if last season taught us anything, these Bonnies step their games up at the most crucial points and make the impossible into probable.

phelanjc11@bonaventure.edu

Behind the Wolfpack: Healthy Simmons and Davenport Ready For Season

[Photo courtesy of gobonnies.com]

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

ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. (Oct. 17) – Marquise Simmons took a pass at the top of the key and quickly drove hard to the basket and immediately started to limp and grimace after being fouled.

Simmons waved off trainers and took his free throws, made them both, and called to the bench knowing that his season may have ended after just two minutes of game action.

“I don’t remember much of it, but I remember taking off to the basket and feeling a snap,” Simmons recalled. “I was in more of a denial stage, knew something was wrong, but didn’t know what. I saw the trainer and he told me I tore my achilles.”

But the injury bug didn’t stop there. In just St. Bonaventure’s eighth game, Michael Davenport went after a loose ball, banged his shoulder and immediately grabbed for it in pain, but thought it wasn’t anything serious.

“I thought it was just a slight dislocation,” Davenport said on the court before practice. “Then when they took me to the back and it was obviously a lot worse than that.”

And just like that, the Bonnies lost two major contributors to their team and many pegged the season as a lost cause. However, other players stepped up their own play in order to replace the production of both Simmons and Davenport.

But their injuries have allowed them to return for one more go around with St. Bonaventure. Davenport is just 253 points away from 1,000 in his career and Simmons is finally healthy heading into the season.

Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt said it’s a huge boost to the team.

“When you can have those guys back who have had experience, it really is helpful, not only to me but also the young guys,” Schmidt said of his seniors.

How important can Simmons be to St. Bonaventure’s success?

Well, first off he is one of only two traditional big men on the roster, meaning he will play a lot of minutes. But secondly, Simmons was actually considered the crown jewel of his own recruiting class.

Yes, that’s right.

It was Simmons who was the highly regarded prospect and not the string bean from Mississauga, Ontario. Simmons had all the makings of a future star: great build, good ball handling skills, great finisher around the basket and had touch from the perimeter.

But injuries have hurt his chances to put his skills on display.

“It’s been more of a set back type of thing,” Simmons said. “But I’m healthy this year and I’m ready to go.”

Meanwhile, Davenport is one of a seven-guard deep roster and has the most experience of all of them. Davenport has experienced the ups and downs of the college game and Schmidt said he can have redemption this season.

“He wasn’t having a great senior season anyway, put too much pressure on himself, so it’s almost like he has a reprieve,” Schmidt said. “We’re expecting him to score the ball. He has a chance to be a 1,000-point scorer and you don’t have many of those in your career.”

While the rest of the Atlantic 10 Conference believes St. Bonaventure was a one-man show last season, the Bonnies have a deep squad that only gets better with the return of Simmons and Davenport.

St. Bonaventure may not have the star power that Andrew Nicholson brought them last season, but with Simmons’ ability to stretch the floor with his jump-shot and Davenport’s ability to create off the dribble, the Bonnies have two senior leaders who could point them in the right direction.

lazorm09@bonaventure.edu

Behind the wolfpack: Bonnies drop Xavier, make history

[Andrew Nicholson celebrates St. Bonaventure’s victory over Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Championship Tournament – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]

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

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (March 11) – Five years ago, St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt stood at the podium during his introductory press conference and discussed bringing Bonnies basketball back.

Flash forward to today, and he has done just that.

The Bonnies defeated the Xavier Musketeers in the 2012 Atlantic 10 Championship, 67-56, at Boardwalk Hall in front of 6,101 spectators.

It marks the first Atlantic 10 title the Bonnies have won in program history, completing a magical run through the end of the season.

They enter the NCAA Tournament as the No. 14 seed in the East region and will face No. 3 seed Florida State on Friday.

Take a second to comprehend this fact.

St. Bonaventure, the smallest school in the A-10, won the title and will face FSU in the NCAA Tournament.

The foundation for this run did not begin this season but four years ago with the recruitment of Andrew Nicholson.

Residing in Mississauga, Ontario, Nicholson was in relative obscurity but did not escape the eyes of Bona scouts.

“Our assistant coach said I needed to get there and see a kid because he reminded him of Greg Oden,” Schmidt said of Nicholson. “As soon as he started playing, I had goose bumps.”

Staring down a Xavier team that had gone undefeated in four previous A-10 finals, Nicholson took control and carried the team when it needed him the most.

The Musketeers had no answer once Nicholson touched the ball in the post, sending multiple men to help with no avail. Like so many teams before them, they could not limit the A-10 Player of the Year.

He not only dominated on the offensive side, tallying 26 points on 7-of-13 shooting but on the defensive side as well with a championship game record eight-blocks.

“That’s what I came to Bonaventure for,” Nicholson said. “To bring the Bonnies back. We did it.”

But once again, it was a team effort that helped the Bonnies outlast the Musketeers.

Without Charlon Kloof’s defense on Tu Holloway, limiting him to 17 points on only 5-of-13 shooting, or Jordan Gathers’ defense on Mark Lyons, the Bonnies would not have enjoyed all the adulation after the game.

Without the team focus on rebounding, a focus of their’s throughout the tournament, out-rebounding Xavier by a 42-29 margin, the Bonnies could have been manhandled inside.

But this did not happen, and the reason is simple.

Schmidt not only has laid a solid foundation of players who complement each other, but the experiences of losing in heartbreaking fashions allowed them to learn.

Instead of watching an Xavier team celebrate winning a fifth A-10 Tournament crown, the Bonnies learned from their experiences and executed to perfection a winning game plan.

As St. Bonaventure cut down the nets for the first time, Bona fans stood in the stands smiling, crying and cheering after witnessing Schmidt and his team accomplish something truly special.

They put St. Bonaventure basketball back on the map and will dance into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000.

lazorm09@bonaventure.edu

Lee-aving Nothing Behind: No. 44

[Andrew Nicholson scored a game-high 32 points en route to a 98-93 double-overtime victory Wednesday vs. Saint Joseph’s – All photos by Tony Lee]

By Tony Lee, Columnist, @sHecKii Pin It

Don’t tell Andrew Nicholson he made big shots Wednesday night.

The senior—playing his final game at the Reilly Center nonetheless—saw no difference between his first and last.

“I mean, I shoot those all the time,” said Nicholson, still not owning up to the gravity of his first-overtime-tying three with two seconds left.

When the Bonnies trailed by four in regulation, Nicholson made his first three, one that he stepped back and shot with a Zen-like calmness less than a minute to go.

“It’s like a second nature,” he said.

Second nature? More like freak of nature.

Nicholson didn’t just score 32 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished two assists. He didn’t just win a game that clinched a first-round bye in the Atlantic 10 Conference playoffs. 

His final three, one that ended up being the game winner in the second overtime, defined his legacy, in front of 3,539 attendees, hundreds via the Internet, 13 teammates, three assistant coaches and one Mark Schmidt.

“We talk about legacy,” the fifth-year coach said of the 98-93 win versus St. Joseph’s (19-12, 9-7). “This will be remembered a long time.”

The St. Bonaventure (17-10, 10-5) players played their final home game with passion and heart described in Greek myths. The energy was palpable. Players played like warriors.

The Bonnies never quit—and it’s a game Schmidt could only describe as “proud.”

“It was the best game I was associated with as a head coach,” he said. “I thought our guys showed great mental and physical toughness. We were dead in the water a few times.

“Matthew (Wright) hit big shots. Andrew was Andrew. We found a way to win.”

Wright’s biggest shot came with about two seconds left, giving the Bonnies a two-point lead in regulation.

Wright said they practice this play often, one that gives Nicholson an open look at a three. But he noticed his defender always doubled Nicholson, leaving him wide open.

So, Wright said to Nicholson after the huddle, “I’ll slip in the corner if you need me — and that’s exactly what happened.”

Nicholson got double teamed, passed to a wide-open Wright, and the sophomore hit the go-ahead three, holding his pose, bouncing down the sideline, passing his teammates leaping off the bench.

“That’s when all those reps, all those 6 a.m. practices, all those 100 threes a day,” said Wright, who led bench scoring with 11 points and three threes, “that’s when you zone in and focus on your form.”

After Wright’s dagger, Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said jokingly the Hawks’ goal was to throw the ball far and get fouled to shoot free throws.

That happened, via a questionable call, as C.J. Aiken got fouled by Charlon Kloof and converted both his free throws.

Martelli said the Hawks “believed” with 1.2 seconds left in regulation, but not the entire game — and it led to falling short of their goals.

He said basketball’s all about numbers. Though Carl Jones and Langston Galloway had 20 points each, that wasn’t the 20 Saint Joseph’s wanted—and St. Bonaventure’s 20 offensive rebounds were certainly not it.

“We wanted to get to 20 wins,” Martelli said. “We wanted to get 10 (wins) in the league. We wanted to get five on the road. All about numbers.”

And numbers do tell a story.

The combined 40 personal fouls describe the game’s physicality. The score tying 18 times and leads changing 14 times describe the game’s excitement.

But no number describes how the Bonnies battled back without losing faith after starting 2-3 and losing Michael Davenport and Marquise Simmons to season-ending injuries. 

“I always tell them no team stays the same. You either get worse or you get better,” Schmidt said. “Our guys have really come to practice everyday and got better. You want to be playing best at the end of the year—and that’s what we’re doing.”

Though Schmidt said this was a team win, Nicholson owned Wednesday night.

When asked to say one word describing his final home game…

“One word? It was fun,” Nicholson said. “It was a good way to go out — I’m going to miss it — and it’s good to go out on a good note.”

But maybe Martelli is right. Basketball is all about numbers. Because one number spoke volumes Wednesday.

Forty-four.

Number freaking 44.

tony.lee@theintrepid.org

[Andrew Nicholson’s game-tying three in the first overtime – Photo by Tony Lee]

Behind the Wolfpack: Bonnies finding winning recipe

[Sophomore Charlon Kloof directs the Bonnies offense to a win against Richmond – Photo by Tony Lee]

By Ryan Lazo, feature columnist, @RMLazo13

Fresh off an overtime victory at Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure returned home in a five-way tie for first place in the Atlantic 10 Conference and ended the night in a three-way tie for first.

Yes, that’s right. 

Seven games into the A-10 slate, the Brown and White is in first place. 

Facing a Richmond team that had come off of a 44-point win over Fordham, the Bonnies (12-7, 5-2) never allowed the Spiders (12-10, 3-4) to lead in a 62-47 victory in the Reilly Center.

“We dominated on the defensive side of the ball,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt said. “We won this game because we defended and rebounded.”

[Related: Audio podcast of the Jan. 28 presser]

They also won because of the play of sophomore point guard Charlon Kloof. 

Kloof may not have compiled eye-popping stats, 3-of-5 from the field for 11 points and three assists, but his impact goes beyond the numbers. 

Playing 31 minutes, Kloof operated as the floor general, calling out and executing plays to keep this Bona machine rolling through the A-10. 

However, perhaps his presence is really felt on the defensive side of the ball.

Playing in a conference filled with play-making guards such as Tu Holloway and Tony Taylor, Kloof is asked to keep his counterparts in check.

He did more than keep Richmond’s starting guards in check. He had them on an island, completely shutting down the tandem of Darien Brothers and Cedrick Lindsay.

Averaging a combined 27.5 points per game heading into the contest, Kloof helped limit them to a combined 3-of-18 shooting for just eight points.

“The point guard is the quarterback,” Schmidt said of Kloof. “If he’s aggressive and he’s dominating the ball then that helps out everyone else. He does a great job of keeping the ball in front of him.”

But Kloof says it’s a team effort that has allowed him to limit opposing guards.

“People just see me and think I’m stopping the play, but (Demitrius) with his wingspan is in the passing lane stopping a pass,” Kloof said. “It’s really a team effort on defense.”

[Related: Photos from St. Bonaventure’s 62-47 victory over Richmond at home]

However, Kloof didn’t win this game by himself. He had the help of three other Bonnies scoring in double figures.

Andrew Nicholson paced the Bonnies with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting, but was once again plagued by foul trouble, limiting him to only 26 minutes.

Chris Johnson also gave a defensive and offensive spark to the Brown and White, scoring 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting with two steals.

Demitrius Conger also dropped in an additional 10 points, but struggled shooting. The Brooklyn native went only 3-of-7 from the field and has cooled off from his blistering start to the season.

However, it was Kloof and the defense that were the keys to this Bona win. Playing a suffocating defense that limited the Spiders to only 26.5 percent shooting, well below their season average of 44 percent, they had no chance to win.

Suffocating defense. Out rebounding their opponent 43 to 27 and timely shooting.

The Bonnies are peaking at the right time, finding the winning recipe to contend in the highly competitive A-10.

lazorm09@bonaventure.edu

COLUMN: LIKE AN ASSEMBLY LINE, SOMEONE IS ALWAYS READY

[National Player of the Week Jessica Jenkins guards Ashley Prim of St. Joseph’s closely at the Reilly Center – Photo by Melissa Scott]

By Joseph Phelan, Staff Writer, @jphelan13

It was business as usual for the Bonnies (19-2, 6-0) as they defeated the St. Joseph’s Hawks, 68-61, in front of 1,012 lively spectators at the Reilly Center.

However, a victory was not secured without a few bumps in the road.

“Our kids understand when they need to raise their level, and they are not afraid of that,” said Bona coach Jim Crowley.  

Many voters probably ranked St. Bonaventure as the Atlantic 10 Conference preseason’s sixth best team because they wondered about players not named Megan Van Tatenhove or Jessica Jenkins.

Because if not its stars, who can step up?

The answer: everyone.

Some days, it’s junior Alaina Walker. Some days it’s sophomore CeCe Dixon. Some days, no one played excellent, but senior Armelia Horton’s hustle plays or Jennie Ashton’s offensive rebounds impacts a game.

Like an assembly line, St. Bonaventure always had another piece ready. 

Wednesday night, Doris Ortega stepped up, becoming the seventh Bonnies player to score 15 points or higher in a game this season.

“Coaches have constantly reminded me that I am a very good off-the-bounce player,” Ortega said. “It causes a lot of miss matches to opposing post players.”

The sophomore, who leads the team in assists, recorded a career-high 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field and converted all eight free throws.

Ortega’s production was need as Hawks’ Ashley Prim held Jenkins, who had only six points on 2-of-8 shooting, in check. 

Meanwhile, Van Tatenhove also struggled against the taller Hawks (13-6, 3-2) defenders, recording only 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting.

Crowley said he credited Ortega for picking up her teammates when they needed it.

“We don’t win without it,” Crowley said of Ortega’s effort.

The well-oiled machine that had St. Bonaventure receiving 42 votes in the AP top-25 this week, sprung a leak.

The Bonnies defense was not as swift. They didn’t box out as well, surrendering 10 offensive rebounds and committed 16 turnovers — five more than their season average.

Crowley said it was the veteran presence on the team that helped steady the tide.

“Our seniors keep us calm,” Crowley said. “They make sure people know what to do.”

Finding themselves trailing in a game once again, this time by seven with 13:52 remaining, the Bonnies showed their trademark intensity and fought their way back.

Dixon, who had 10 points and two offensive rebounds, sparked St. Bonaventure back into the game with three consecutive baskets from 5:46 to 2:49 left in the game.

Her third basket gave Bona a 60-54 lead, one they would not relinquish.

Perhaps Crowley explained his team the best.

“We are putting the acorns in the tree,” he said. “And no one can take them away.”

Crowley’s correct. The Bonnies just to continue to pile on the numbers on the left side of the won-loss column, moving past doubters and teams, one win at a time.

And hopefully one voter at a time.

Behind the Wolfpack: The RC is back

By Ryan Lazo, feature columnist, @RMLazo13

This one surely turned some heads.

There are rarely any blowouts in conference play, but that’s just what happened in the Reilly Center.

St. Bonaventure thoroughly dismantled Fordham for a 44-point win, the highest margin of victory over an Atlantic 10 Conference opponent in its history.

Yes, that’s not a typo. The Bonnies (10-7, 3-2) defeated the Rams (8-10, 1-4), 95-51.

After the final buzzer sounded, the Bonnies moved their home record to 7-1 and have won 14 out of their last 16 A-10 games at home.

The Reilly Center has become a pit once again, a place opponents have come to dread. The aura is back and this current collection of Bona players have a lot to do with it.

For starters, take senior All-American candidate Andrew Nicholson who toyed with the Rams defense all afternoon.

Receiving a bounce pass in the post, Nicholson was quickly swarmed by three Rams defenders, but the big man did not panic. He calmly moved his pivot to the left, then to the right and quickly, through the three defenders, for two of his 19 points.

“He’s a beast,” Fordham coach Tom Pecora said of Nicholson. “He effects every possession even if he doesn’t touch the ball.”

But in this matchup, Nicholson wasn’t the lone star.

In fact, the Bonnies had four players record double digits in points and a team effort on defense limited the Rams to only 29.1 percent shooting from the field.

“Defending, rebounding and taking care of the ball,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt said of what he emphasized. “In all three facets, we excelled. When we play like that, we’re hard to beat.”

An unexpected jolt of scoring and rebounding came from freshman guard Jordan Gathers.

Gathers had his breakout game, recording 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field, including a left-handed slam that incited a roar from the crowd.

The California native also nabbed seven boards to go along with three assists, showing a glimpse into what he can be.

“After a tough loss, I just wanted to come in here and contribute as much as I could,” Gathers said of his effort. “I planned on staying aggressive on both the offensive and defensive ends.”

Also lending some support to Nicholson was fellow senior Da’Quan Cook, who is in the midst of arguably his best stretch of his career.

Cook recorded 14-points in a win over Dayton followed by his 18 point, 8 rebound, one block outburst over Fordham.

The senior credited his teammates, especially the guards, for finding him in the right spots.

However, perhaps the most important development from the game was Matthew Wright’s 4-for-8 shooting from the field for 13 points.

The sophomore had been struggling lately, having only gone 7-for-29 in his previous four games, even air-balling at least one shot per contest.

This could be the win that not only gives Wright some confidence, but could set the tone for the rest of the Bona season.

But one thing is certain — the A-10 has taken notice after this win and dread any visit to the Reilly Center.

It’s a home court advantage once again.

lazorm09@bonaventure.edu