Behind The Wolfpack: Bonnies’ Season Of Missed Chances Ends

[St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt is in disbelief as his team Bonnies team fell to Fordham, eliminating them from the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]

By Ryan Lazo, Editor in Chief, @RMLazo13


ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — Everything was set up the way Mark Schmidt could have wanted. His St. Bonaventure team controlled their own destiny, win and in, as they faced off against the lowly Fordham Rams.

But this is not a movie and there is no script to follow except the one Bona made along the way.

The Rams, losers of 14 of their last 15 games, came into the Reilly Center with nothing to play for except being a spoiler. And they turned in an Academy Award winning performance, defeating the Bonnies, 76-72 in front of 4,515 fans in attendance for Senior Day.

Even with the loss, the Bonnies (14-15, 7-9) still had hope that they could sneak into the Atlantic 10 Tournament, albeit not in the way they envisioned.

“We just want to get in. That was the goal,” Mark Schmidt said after his team’s loss to Fordham. “We’ll see what happens tonight. We just want to get and hopefully that happens.”

However, Schmidt and Bona’s hopes were dashed at 8:51 p.m. as the buzzer sounded in Charlotte, officially eliminating the Bonnies from the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament.

A complete and stunning turnaround from last season in which the Bonnies won four out of their last five games in the regular season before winning three straight to capture the program’s first A-10 Title.

But that is a distant memory today as the facts are almost too hard to conceive.

Not only did Bona get handed a cupcake by playing Fordham (7-24, 3-13), they hosted them on their home court on Senior Day, giving themselves more momentum. The hapless Rams had not won a road game since Dec. 10, 2011 against Monmouth and their first A-10 road win since Jan. 28, 2009 when they defeated the Bonnies.

“I just think we didn’t rise to the occasion. We just came in thinking that we were going to beat the team without showing up,” Bona center Youssou Ndoye said. “Like coach said, we need to show up every night.”

Damning words about a team that graduated four seniors, three of which starters, and all important pieces to last year’s title run.

But it’s also been the story of a season filled with missed opportunities.

One shot here, one defensive stop there and the story could have been written different about this Bona squad. While many predicted this type of gloom for the Bonnies’ program following the departure of First-Round NBA Draft Pick Andrew Nicholson, it was not Nicholson whom Bona seemed to miss.

Far too often this season, Bona was outplayed in the paint or dominated on the glass. Lack of not only height in the paint, but toughness spoke loudly. While Nicholson supplied much of the scoring last year, it was Da’Quan Cook who did the dirty work.

It was Cook who would effectively shut-down another team’s big man. It was Cook who would sky for rebounds, both offensive and defensive, to keep Bona in the game. And it was Cook who refused to let the Bonnies be bullied in the paint.

Except that’s what happened all season, including last night.

“The bottom line is that we didn’t play hard enough and we didn’t rebound as a team,” Ndoye said of his teammates. “The bigs didn’t rebound and that’s what hurt as more.”

Against Fordham, Bona was out-rebounded by a 35 to 24 margin, including an absurd 19 to 6 margin in the second half.

But it didn’t stop there.

The Bonnies were out-scored in the paint by a 42 to 28 gap and lost the second-chance point battle, 21-9.

“We didn’t deserve to win,” Schmidt said emphatically. “Fordham played better. We didn’t defend them and we didn’t rebound with them. When you don’t do those two things, you are going to lose.”

Heart-breaking. Demoralizing.

Two words that Bona fans have used a lot this season and used again last night. But take those two words and the season into perspective.

St. Bonaventure’s Matthew Wright had a 3-point attempt at the end of regulation go off the side of the iron against Canisius. Chris Johnson had the same happen to him at Arkansas State. Demitrius Conger had it happen against La Salle.

The point?

Just a few inches the other way in each game and Bona could be looking at their season a lot differently. The loss of Nicholson, supposed to hinder the offense, did not happen. The Bonnies ranked fifth in the conference in scoring and second in 3-point field goal percentage.

And while Bona graduated four seniors, there is still talent left on this roster, something many did not predict once Nicholson graduated.

Photo by Daulton SherwinPhoto by Daulton Sherwin

Ndoye’s development this season was a major story-line and he saved his best for last, scoring a career-high 17 points against Fordham. The Senegal native, already a menacing force for opposing guards driving the lane, has plenty of untapped potential.

Jordan Gathers, a key player last season for his defense, saw his offensive production increase when he attempted his shot. Gather set a career-high against Richmond with 18 points, going a perfect 7-of-7 from the field, becoming the first Bona player in 16 years to attempt seven shots without missing.

Even Dion Wright put together a career-high performance himself with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting against Charlotte. The freshman always was active on both the offensive and defensive ends and once he grasps Schmidt’s playbook, he can be Conger-like in his production.

While Bona’s season ends in disappointing fashion, one must look at where this program came from. Expectations are heightened and talent is abundant because of the impact seniors like Conger and Davenport had on the program.

“It’s disappointing. I feel bad for our seniors,” Schmidt said after the game. “You never want to go out that way, losing at home in your last game.”

As one season ends, another begins, bringing with it more expectations and chance to continue build the Bonnies into a perennial contender, one shot, one defensive stop and one rebound at a time.

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

image

[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 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.

lazorm09@bonaventure.edu

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.

lazorm09@bonaventure.edu

Behind the Wolfpack: Bonnies aim high

[Photo by Tony Lee]

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

As he lay in his dorm room waking up from a night’s rest, Andrew Nicholson was unaware of the news that was quickly spreading across St. Bonaventure’s campus.

For only the second time in the university’s history, they had a player who had earned the Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year Award (POY). 

The A-10 POY said it’s the best news he has woken up to.

“I woke up and saw a few texts congratulating me,” Nicholson said. “The team was big in me getting the award.”

Not the words you would expect from a projected first-round NBA draft pick, but the modest senior is the reason St. Bonaventure is heading into Atlantic City with a bye.

He is the reason they have continued to improve every season.

And he is the reason St. Bonaventure has a chance to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament and earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 12 years. 

Waiting for the Bonnies tomorrow is the Saint Joseph’s Hawks who are looking for revenge after their two-overtime loss at the Reilly Center Feb. 29.

The Hawks combination of Langston Galloway and Carl Jones accounted for 40-points in the previous meeting, providing problems galore for Bonnies guards. 

Expect St. Bonaventure to be prepared for what the Hawks will bring this time around.

And with the Bonnies guards playing better late in the season, Nicholson has elevated his game.

“We’ve been shooting the ball really well,” Matthew Wright said. “The better we shoot, it takes away the double from Andrew and that makes us extremely dangerous.”

Winning four out of their final five games, the Bonnies enter the A-10 Tournament riding high.

Kloof displayed the team’s confidence.

“We’re going to play three games and win them all,” Kloof said with a smile.

It’s easy to see where the confidence starts.

They have weapons all over the court and can go nine-deep.

Guards Eric Mosley and Kloof play off of each other, bringing different styles into the game, forcing the opponent to make the adjustment.

Chris Johnson provides an offensive spark and high energy off the bench. Wright brings 3-point shooting ability and he continually makes great decisions with the basketball.

Entering the tournament with the most talented team they have had since 2000, the Bonnies aim to win three straight and dance into the NCAA Tournament.

lazorm09@bonaventure.edu

Behind the Wolfpack: Nicholson just the start of an era

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

Standing at half court, holding a glass encased No. 44 jersey, flanked by family members and Bona coach Mark Schmidt was senior Andrew Nicholson.

As he stood in place smiling at the photographers, he received the loudest ovation of any Bona senior announced during Senior Day festivities. It seemed surreal — people bowing and adoring him for his four years worth of accomplishments.

“That was very special,” Nicholson said. “It meant a lot because it showed what I did here was positive.”

This all happened before the final game of a three-game home stand for St. Bonaventure as they faced off against Rhode Island.

It would be a long day for the Rams (5-23, 2-11) as the Bonnies (14-10, 7-5) led from the first minute to the last in an 81-61 rout in front of a sold out crowd at the Reilly Center.

Nicholson showed why he has been mentioned among Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year discussions with a dominating display of offensive skill.

He shot 12-of-15, including 2-for-2 from 3-point range, for 32 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. More impressive was the array of moves he put on the hapless Rams defenders.

Post-ups, up and unders, mid-range jump shots, fade-aways, dunks and even 3-point shots. It was all on display for the many alumni in attendance.

But it was all symbolic.

Nicholson was the start of a new era for St. Bonaventure basketball. He put the program on his shoulders and elevated it to a respectable level once again.

He was Schmidt’s first big recruit, one that turned into a star and brought attention to the program. With newfound attention also came a better talent level.

Previously, the Bonnies had suffered from a lack of depth and talent, but that has changed this season.

St. Bonaventure lost two players for the season, one a senior starter and another expected to compete for a starting job. That could be crippling to a team, yet here are the Bonnies, still in the midst of things in the A-10.

Why are they still able to compete?

Because Schmidt has filled out his roster with talented players and other teams and coaches are beginning to notice.

After his team’s victory Wednesday night, Temple coach Fran Dunphy had nothing but praise for St. Bonaventure.

“They are going to be a team to be reckoned with come A-10 Tournament time,” Dunphy said. “We feel fortunate to be walking out with a win.”

The Bonnies have talent all over their roster. In fact, seven players recorded at least six-points against Rhode Island. 

They have a two-headed monster of Charlon Kloof and Eric Mosley at the point guard position, an offensive spark plug named Chris Johnson who comes off the bench and an athletic big man who regularly incites chants of his name in Youssou Ndoye.

Freshman Jordan Gathers earned his first start yesterday because of the defensive ability he brings to the table every game.

Schmidt regularly goes nine-deep, showing off the depth of his team, and in reality also showing the continuation of an era.

There may never be another Nicholson arriving on St. Bonaventure’s campus, but the talent level continues to trend upward and with that the win total will, too.

lazorm09@bonaventure.edu

[Photos By Kenny Nguyen]

Ryan Doberstein (@FlyinRyan324) of FRFphotos.us took photos from St. Bonaventure’s 81-61 victory against Rhode Island Saturday at a sold-out Reilly Center.

Behind the Wolfpack: Bonnies fall short, leaving lasting mark

[Juan Fernandez and the rest of the Temple Owls proved to be too much for St. Bonaventure, leaving the Reilly Center with a 76-70 triumph – Photo by Melissa Scott]

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

The game was there for the taking.

St. Bonaventure had stormed back from a 27-20 deficit with an 11-0 run to take a four-point lead in the waning minutes of the opening half. A quick Temple run before halftime cut the lead to only one, 31-30.

But in the end the Owls (20-5, 9-2) were too much for the Bonnies (13-10, 6-5) to handle in a 76-70 loss Wednesday night at the Reilly Center.

The Owls victory snapped an eight-game home winning streak for the Bonnies and extended Temple’s dominance over St. Bonaventure to 15-games.

It was a tale of two halves as the Bonnies limited the Owls big three of Juan Fernandez, Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt, averaging a combined 47 points per game coming in, to only 5-of-15 shooting in the first half.

However, Temple coach Fran Dunphy knew Moore would turn it around.

“I know his mentality toward the game and I knew he would get into rhythm,” Dunphy said of Moore’s poor first half.

The big three would end the game shooting 14-of-31 for 52-points, more than three-quarters of Temple’s points.

But this game was not all Temple. 

The Bonnies were in this game throughout and were seemingly lifted by the play of junior Eric Mosley.

Whenever the Owls would go on a run, it was Mosley who extinguished the flames. 

Down 16-11, it was Mosley’s two 3-pointers that gave St. Bonaventure the lead.

Then, with Temple threatening to break the game open on two different occasions, it was Mosley with two shifty drives to the basket while drawing the foul. 

Both times Mosley pulled the Bonnies to within two.

“I just worked the inside out with Andrew and took what the defense gave me,” Mosley said of his 18 point effort.

Nicholson also did his best to bring the Bonnies back, recording 12 of his team-high 19 points in the second half on 8-of-15 shooting including 2-for-2 from 3-point range.

Unfortunately a 14-point second half deficit was too much for the Bonnies to overcome, but one must put this loss in perspective. 

The Bonnies lost to Temple on the road by an 83-55 margin last season and 73-55 the previous season. This same Owls team beat Duke earlier this season and defeated Xavier over the weekend.

They received 122 votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, leaving them just shy of cracking the Top 25.

Yet in the waning minute of the game, the Bonnies still had a chance for another memorable finish last seen with a J.R. Bremmer 3-pointer to beat Temple.

The fact did not escape Dunphy’s mind.

“They’re a really good basketball team,” Dunphy said of the Bonnies. “They will be a force to be reckoned with as we get into the conference tournament.”

With five games remaining, the Bonnies are fighting for seeding in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament.

Once there, they have the talent to succeed. 

lazorm09@bonaventure.edu