[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.
Number freaking 44.
[Andrew Nicholson’s game-tying three in the first overtime – Photo by Tony Lee]