Behind The Wolfpack: Bonnies Face Daunting Task After Loss To Xavier

[Chris Johnson races to the hoop during St. Bonaventure’s 66-64 loss to Xavier in a Atlantic 10 Championship game rematch – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]


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

ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. If there was any chance for St. Bonaventure to break out of their worst funk in six years, this was the time.

A rematch of last year’s Atlantic 10 Championship game against a Xavier team that was not quite itself and was dealt a blow by having to play without Dee Davis.

And for a moment, it seemed the Bonnies would once again be able to topple perennial A-10 power Xavier when two free throws by Chris Johnson gave Bona a five-point lead with just 4:40 remaining.

But, even though the players have changed, one thing never does for Xavier — their heart. Across their chest is the name of a school that has reached seven straight NCAA Tournaments and reached the Sweet 16 in four of the last five seasons.

In other words, they have the heart of a champion.

And those Musketeers attacked St. Bonaventure with everything they had and left the Reilly Center with a come-from-behind 66-64 victory, a loss that leaves Bona gasping for air.

“There’s no embarrassment in losing that game,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt said solemnly. “It’s just frustrating to be so close and not being able to make the plays at the end.”

But not making the plays at the end is becoming an alarming trend for St. Bonaventure (7-9, 0-3).

Earlier this season, Bona held a seven-point lead with seven minutes to go at Canisius and ended up losing the game on a missed final shot. The same happened at Arkansas State where Bona held a late lead to watch it evaporate in a matter of seconds.

Just one additional play made and this Bonnies season would have an entirely different vibe to it. But instead, players are left to shake their heads at what’s quickly becoming a frustrating season.

“It’s another loss. It’s another close one,” Johnson said following the loss to Xavier (10-6, 3-0). “It’s the same feeling at Canisius where we had the game at hand only to not execute down the stretch. We have to learn how to close out games.”

But if they haven’t learned yet, when will they learn?

Three games into the Atlantic 10 schedule and Bona is in the basement, looking up at a league that is a lot stronger than last season.

“Anytime you can win on the road, in this conference, it’s special,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said after his team’s win. “It’s not easy to do.”

Mack’s right about that.

From the top of the Atlantic 10 all the way to the bottom, any team can beat you. And that fact makes the rest of the season a daunting task for this Bonnies team.

While no one expected Bona to be a heavy weight once again, it also wasn’t expected to see the defending A-10 Champions taking such a precipitous fall.

Talent is all over the roster and in the past two games — two tough losses to VCU and Xavier — it’s easy for everyone to see.

“I think we’re getting better,” Schmidt said of his team on a six-game losing streak. “We got to learn how to win. We have to put ourselves in a situation where we can pull out a close game in the Atlantic 10.”

And slowly, but surely this Bona team is taking the steps to do just that.

Much like Xavier earlier this season when they lost four out five, this Bonnies squad is learning how to gel. Different players in unfamiliar roles has them learning the ABCs all over again, but they are starting to recite it.

Demitrius Conger is always a constant in the Bona offense as he tallied 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Meanwhile, Eric Mosley always graces the scoresheet with his 3-point prowess as he finished with 13 points.

But the man in the middle made the biggest impact of all.

Youssou Ndoye will never be Andrew Nicholson, but the impact he can have on games is very Nicholson-esqe.

In a span of 13 seconds, Ndoye made sure no Xavier player would drive down the lane without looking at his rear-view mirror after two emphatic rejections brought the Reilly Center crowd to life.

“Coach told me I needed to contest shots, not to let them lay the ball up every time,” Ndoye said of his mindset. “So I kinda just wanted to be more aggressive on the defensive end.”

But the 6-foot-11 sophomore also was aggressive on offense.

Ndoye set a career-high with 16 points on 7-for-8 shooting, using a hook-shot that Nicholson patented during his time in the Brown and White.

The Senegal native paced a Bona offense that shot 52.3 percent from the field, becoming just the third team to shoot over 50 percent against Xavier this year.

“He’s young, he’s still learning,” Schmidt said. “It’s still a process. He’s going to be a good player. He has a lot of room to improve, so that’s a positive.”

While Schmidt was discussing Ndoye, he might as well have said the same thing about his Bona squad.

They have talent and have proven they can compete against the top-tier teams in the A-10, but the question becomes how quickly can they change the word from compete to defeat.

For their season’s sake, it has to be sooner rather than later.

Behind the Wolfpack: Bonnies Erase Dark Past With Win

[Andrew Nicholson and Charlon Kloof start celebrating as the clock nears zero and their upset of Xavier is complete – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]

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

Nine years ago this never seemed possible for St. Bonaventure.

The basketball program was in ruins. Scandal had overtaken the community, resulting in the resignations of both the school president and head basketball coach.

Players refused to play out the final two games of the season after they were banned from the conference tournament.

News crews from the local and national media descended on the small campus in Olean, N.Y., covering the biggest college basketball story of the year.

Fast forward nine years to the day – March 11. Sr. Margaret Carney O.S.M., university president, did not stand in front of media to discuss a basketball program in ruins, but stood on the court watching one rise from the ashes.

Completing a magical end-of-the-season run, the Bonnies went into Atlantic City and won three games, culminating in a championship game victory over perennial power house Xavier.

The 67-56 win continues to captivate Bona fans, students and locals as the team refocuses themselves to play No. 3 seeded Florida State in Nashville, Tenn. on Friday.

It will mark the first time they have been in the NCAA Tournament since a double-overtime loss to Kentucky in the first round of the 2000 tournament and marks a recovery from the darks days of 2003.

Mark Schmidt was hired in 2008 to help rebuild the program, following Anthony Solomon’s disastrous stint as coach, and immediately realized how important Bona basketball is to the community.

“I did an alumni function at Buffalo,” Schmidt recalled. “An elderly woman stood up and told me the winters here are long and cold, but the last four years they have been really long and really cold.

“Basketball is the rallying point. It’s good, it brings us together.”

It has done more than that. It’s brought a common dream of upset wins, especially because of the Bonnies’ Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Andrew Nicholson.

Nicholson is a dominating inside presence and a first round NBA draft prospect.

He toys with defenders using an assortment of moves: hook-shots, up and unders, spin-moves and even long-range jump shots. It is these moves that have him compared to NBA Hall of Famer and Bona legend Bob Lanier.

During the A-10 Tournament, Nicholson did his best impression of the man who led St. Bonaventure to the 1970 Final Four.

He averaged 23 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks during the three-game stretch of dominance.

The effort not only placed him on the All-Tournament Team but he was also named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

“People always ask me if he’s better than Bob Lanier,” Schmidt said. “I don’t know, but I know he’s our Bob Lanier.”

“He’s a poor man’s Tim Duncan, by far the best player in our league and an NBA team needs to take him in the first round, period,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said following his team’s loss to the Bonnies. “Glad he’s gone; great kid, though.”

But looming in Nashville are the Atlantic Coast Conference Champion Florida State Seminoles. The Seminoles are the first team since 1995-96 to beat both Duke and North Carolina twice in the same season.

They have a big front court, with three players standing at least 6-foot-8, and are extremely athletic.

They boast one of the top defenses in the country, ranking fourth nationally in field goal percentage (37.9) and eighth in blocks (5.9 bpg).

But as talented as they are, they can be beaten, having lost to both Princeton and Harvard out of the Ivy League.

“To win the ACC Tournament, that’s all you need to say,” Schmidt said. “It’s not like we are playing the Bulls. They are a talented team, but we are going there to play.

“We just won the Atlantic 10 Tournament, and that’s the seventh-best conference in the country. We don’t have to take a back seat.”

Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton said his team is not taking the Bonnies lightly.

“They’ve got an outstanding go-to guy that everybody says is a first round draft pick,” Hamilton said. “They are a very well-coached team that obviously beat a very good Xavier team that was nationally ranked.

“They have our attention – no question about that.”

Nine years removed from scandal and 12 years removed from their last tournament appearance, the Bonnies are back.

With a late-season surge, role players stepping up, Nicholson playing the part of Lanier and a team commitment to defense and rebounding, the Bonnies have brought pride back to the Franciscan university.

“Our thing is if we’re in it, we might as well win it,” Schmidt said of his team’s mindset.

After shocking everyone by winning the A-10, Schmidt and his team aim for a first round upset that could send the Bonnies into the national spotlight once again.

Nicholson on first team, SBU predicted to finish fourth

[Andrew Nicholson gets interviewed by ESPN’s Andy Katz at the Atlantic 10 Conference Media Day Thursday at the Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge – Photo courtesy of]

By Ryan Lazo, feature columnist, @RMLazo13

NEW YORK (Oct. 13) — St. Bonaventure’s men’s basketball team was picked to finish fourth in preseason polls today at the Atlantic 10 Conference Media Day.

Xavier with 304 total points and 18 first-place votes got picked to finish first. Temple (287 points, four first-place votes), Saint Louis (239), St. Bonaventure (217) and defending champion Richmond (196) rounded out the top five. 

“It’s nice to have the recognition for our program and the hard work we have put in, but it doesn’t matter,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “We didn’t believe what they had to say last year when they picked us to finish 13th, and we’re not buying into the hype.”

St. Bonaventure’s Andrew Nicholson and Xavier’s Tu Holloway, the defending A-10 Player of the Year, were both named to the Preseason First-Team All-Conference team.

Both players were also selected last week as preseason candidates for the prestigious John R. Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 List. Temple seniors Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez and George Washington’s Tony Taylor rounded out the first-team selctions.

Chris Mack, Xavier’s coach, said that Schmidt, a former Xavier assistant coach, has done an incredible job recruiting in a small town like Olean, N.Y. and the fans should be proud of that.

Also, Mack added Nicholson might be the most skilled player in the country.

“He is a constant mismatch for any team,” he said. “Place a big man on him and he’ll go around him or he’ll just take you outside.”

Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg, on the other hand, had a different approach.

“Best way to stop him is say your prayers the night before,” Kellogg said of Nicholson. 

Though various high praises were said about Nicholson, Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus might have given the highest compliment to St. Bonaventure’s senior forward.

“When I saw 44, I used to think of Henry Aaron,” he said. “Now, I think of Nicholson.”

Tony Lee contributed to this story.


  • Nicholson, Holloway, Duquesne’s T.J. McConnell, Richmond’s Darrius Garret and Saint Joseph’s’ C.J. Aiken were named to the all-defensive team. 
  • Practice begins Saturday at midnight. Duquesne tips off the 2011-12 season on Nov. 9 with a game at Arizona in the Coaches vs. Cancer 2K Sports Classic. 
  • The Bonnies play their first A-10 game on Jan. 4 vs. George Washington at 7 p.m.

Here is the list of the 2011-12 A-10 men’s basketball predicted order of finish:

  1. Xavier (18) 304 
  2. Temple (4) 287 
  3. Saint Louis 239 
  4. St. Bonaventure 217 
  5. Richmond 196 
  6. Dayton 168 
  7. St. Joseph’s 165 
  8. George Washington 163 
  9. Duquesne 151 
  10. Rhode Island 117 
  11. Charlotte 115 
  12. Massachusetts 107 
  13. La Salle 52 
  14. Fordham 29