photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu
By Nic Gelyon
ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — “Hopefully, this breaks the dam and we’re on to a really good run here.”
That’s what St. Bonaventure women’s basketball head coach Jesse Fleming had to say following his team’s 65-60 win against La Salle at the Reilly Center on Friday.
Fleming’s hope is warranted, as his team managed to exercise some of its demons against the Explorers. The Bonnies won their first game since Dec. 16, a home victory against Binghamton. They won their first conference game, finally getting themselves out of the Atlantic 10’s basement. SBU hadn’t beaten La Salle in nearly seven years.
The Bonnies’ veterans continued to contribute in notable ways. Asianae Johnson had 15 points, four rebounds and four assists, leading the Bonnies in scoring and icing the game by knocking down 6-of-8 free throws down the stretch.
Senior forward Emily Calabrese finished with five rebounds and three assists to go along with four points.
For the Explorers, junior Kayla Spruill led the way shooting, going 4-for-5 from the field for 16 points while hitting a perfect 6-of-6 shots from the foul line. Sophomore Claire Jacobs made an impact on the glass for La Salle, notching a team-high nine rebounds with 11 points and four assists.
But it was up-and-comers like Olivia Brown, Kaitlyn Parker, Maddie Dziezgowski, and I’yanna Lops who glued the game together for the Bonnies. All played key roles at different points in the game, particularly in scoring and rebounding, as the Bonnies continued to not rely solely on the veterans to do the heavy lifting.
Fleming knows it was the team’s balance that made this game different.
“I thought that everybody who came in really did something positive,” he said after the game. “I love the 19 assists number, really shared the basketball; the shooters came out shot ready, good shots.”
Right out of the gate, the Bonnies dominated their way to a 22-4 lead, playing fast and taking advantage of some fantastic looks gifted to them by La Salle. Brown, a sophomore, led the first-quarter charge. One of the Bonnies’ more reliable shooters this season, she scored 11 points in the first quarter, aided by three wide-open looks from beyond the arc.
But even as the Bonnies shot over 60% from the floor in the first half, their defense is what allowed them to build an 18-point lead. Limiting La Salle to just eight points in the first quarter, the Explorers couldn’t find a way to penetrate the Bonnies’ zone. Forcing them into long-range shots, the Bonnies played to La Salle’s weakness as a team, shooting just under 30% from three.
Fleming spoke about the Bonnies’ defensive stand in the first half.
“Love the defensive energy,” he said. “[La Salle] played down in Drexel on Wednesday, and then they came up here… we came out and said, if you guys aren’t going to have the energy, we’re going to have twice the energy.”
The Explorers found some energy of their own in the second half. The Bonnies’ 18-point lead was cut to single digits by a dagger three from Deja King to bookend the first half. But, fresh out of halftime, Brown answered back with a three of her own. She’d finish the game with 14 points and five rebounds.
Rebounding was also a team effort for SBU on Friday. Six Bonnies had four or more rebounds in the game, as St. Bonaventure outrebounded La Salle, 37-25, with a dominating plus-six advantage in offensive boards. It was a different look for a team that had ‘t dominated the glass this season.
What kept La Salle in the game was their knack for getting to the free-throw line, hitting 17 of 19 on the day. But as La Salle began to capitalize on some of the Bonnies’ errors, and as they eventually cut their deficit to two points, the Bonnies exercised one of their more evil demons: their inability to close out games.
This season, the Bonnies have blown a late lead against St. John’s on the heels of a Brown technical foul. They’ve failed to maintain their momentum during comeback efforts against Dayton and Richmond.
And the Bonnies could have faltered amid a wave of Explorers after an Asianae Johnson turnover midway through the fourth with La Salle threatening to take the lead. Instead, they gathered themselves. They returned to what had worked the entire game, setting up their offense, working inside the paint, and asserting themselves on the glass.
Resilient, the Bonnies successfully stood their ground on Friday, conquering the demon that has haunted them all season.
“We could be licking our wounds after a couple tough losses,” Fleming said. “People were ready to step up… and we needed that.”
Deja Francis, who had 11 points, four rebounds and six assists on Friday, agreed with her coach that this win could be the start of change for her team.
“It feels really good… just to finish this one out,” Francis said said. “We’re really close. It feels really good to just take that next step and get the win.”
After a Sunday slate against Saint Joseph’s was canceled due to COVID-19 concern within the Hawks’ program, SBU will begin a two-game road trip that begins by visiting Fordham on Jan. 22.