By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
On a day designed to honor the old Buffalo Braves, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies turned back the clock on Saturday with a 1970s NBA staple- dominant big man play.
Youssou Ndoye played arguably the best game of his Bona career in the 74-59 win over the Niagara Purple Eagles at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, scoring 23 points on 9-16 shooting as well as grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking five shots.
“Youssou played with some aggression and some passion and that’s what we needed,” said coach Mark Schmidt. “When Youssou plays the way he did today- the way he’s capable of playing- we’re that much better.”
Ndoye’s 16 shots were a season high by far, as he had only attempted 10 shots over his first three games. His teammates got him the ball, and he cashed in on his opportunities.
“These last couple days in practice we’ve worked on throwing the ball inside and playing off me,” Ndoye said. “We have a young team with a lot of new guys and today we got better at just playing together and knowing where to go with the ball. I think my teammates did a great job of finding me, and I executed on most (possessions).”
The Bonnies shot 46.4 percent from the field, a season high. Andell Cumberbatch and Dion Wright combined for 30 points on 12-23 shooting to complement Ndoye’s massive game.
The execution definitely improved today, and Schmidt took note of that.
“We pride ourselves on our execution and for a young team the execution hasn’t been where it needs to be,” he said. “As we get along in the season and play the A-10 schedule that we’re about to play, execution is everything. You need to execute in order to score offensively. We took a step in the right direction today.”
While the offensive play was much needed, Schmidt knows the team has to have a defensive mindset game in and game out. The Bonnies achieved their team goals of holding the team under 60 points and under 40 percent from the floor once again.
“(For) every team, the personality and emphasis has to be defense,” he said. “You can’t win at this level just playing offense; defense has to be the staple, rebounding has to be the staple. If you can do those two things, you have a chance to be in every game.”
“Offense is fickle but defense has to be there every night and that keeps you in the game.”
Ndoye, who missed the first game of the season for playing in an impermissible summer game, struggled in his first two games but hopes to have found his groove.
“The first two games when I came back I didn’t play the way I used to play; no emotion, no passion. I was just out there getting frustrated over little stuff,” he said. “I’m the senior and the captain of the team so the team’s gotta go as I go. I tried to play the way I used to play, with a lot of emotion and trying to make sure everybody’s in the right direction.”
One contributing factor in the increase of the big man’s touches was Niagara’s choice to play the majority of the game in a man-to-man defense.
“I was hoping that somebody would play man one of these games because all of the teams we play always play zone and I’m always in this box trying to make things happen. I was definitely glad that (Niagara) played man,” said Ndoye.
There was definitely a great atmosphere at the First Niagara Center on Saturday afternoon, with the attendance announced at 7,191. Both teams had large contingents supporting their teams, and the players fed off that emotion.
“I thought it was a good crowd,” said Schmidt. “The Bonaventure people really support us. I thought it was a good environment, and if we can (make some adjustments and) make the arena a little smaller to cut out the upper deck it’ll be that much better.”
“This was a good beginning. This could be an annual thing that could be good for Western New York.”