By Paul Casey Gotham
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, NY — On the surface, everything spelled setback for the St. Bonaventure Bonnies: an early drought, more turnovers than the local baker, a late dry spell, foul trouble for the leading scorer and a late rally from the opposition.
What else is there?
Demetrius Conger notched a double-double including a career-high 27 points as Bona trimmed the Niagara University Purple Eagles, 72-70 at the “Taps” Gallagher Center Friday night.
As the Bonnies got small, Conger rose to the occasion keying a 12-5 run to close the first half. With their front court on the bench because of fouls the Brown and White matched Niagara’s guard-heavy lineup. Conger, at 6’6″, stood tallest on the floor for the half’s final four minutes.
“We have to go small because they were small,” commented Bona head coach Mark Schmidt. “It wasn’t something that we practice all the time, playing five guards. They had five guards. They went zone, and we needed to counter.”
Matthew Wright led Conger who finished with a runner in the lane to give SBU a 28-18 advantage. The Bonnies capitalized on Niagara’s half-court trapping defense getting to the line on the next three trips with Conger, Eric Mosley and Chris Johnson all hitting pairs of free throws.
After missing their first 11 attempts from behind the three-point arc, Mosley finally hit from long range when he and Charlon Kloof returned diagonal passes over the zone from the left corner to the right foul-line extended.
“We spaced it out and did a lot good things driving and kicking,” Schmidt explained.
Bona led 35-20, but the Purple Eagles closed the gap with five free throws before Mosley found Wright open in the corner for a three at the buzzer and 38-25 lead.
The second half lacked any of the dry spells present in the first 20 minutes.
Conger and Niagara leading scorer, Juan’ya Green sparred early.
Green stole a pass on the first possession and finished at the opposite end with a left-handed lay up.
Conger grabbed a Da’Quan Cook attempt and flushed home a dunk.
Marvin Jordan got dribble penetration and kicked to Green for trey from the top.
Conger used the rim as a shield for reverse lay up along the baseline, and Bonaventure led 42-30.
Green took over from there. The 6’3″ guard lived up to his reputation routinely using the bounce to get into the paint for lay ups in traffic.
“We were in a desperate situation,” said Niagara head coach, Joe Mihalich of Green’s effort after the break. “We got into a situation where he was the only guy who could make plays for us. We said basically make plays. See what you can do.”
Coming into the game averaging more than 19 a game (second in the country among freshmen and 28th overall), Green scored just six in the first half going 1-6 from the field and 3-6 from the line.
“We didn’t have enough energy coming out,” Green noted. “We started off, we didn’t pressure.”
The Purple Eagles scored 28 points in the paint during the second half with Green doing most of the damage. The Archbishop Carroll product from Philadelphia, Pa. finished 10-17 from the floor and 10-15 from the line for a game-high 32 points.
“I thought he was tremendous, and I didn’t think he was good,” mused Mihalich. “He knows what I mean by that. It’s my job to stay on him. This guy is such a great player. He was tremendous down the stretch. Early on he just didn’t come out like he is capable. I got to keep him humble.”
After using a spin dribble to set up a running one-hander in the lane, Green crossed over Conger on the next possession getting contact to complete the traditional three-point play closing the gap to seven at 68-61.
The Bonnies broke the Purple Eagle full court press with Conger getting fouled on a lead pass into the open.
Next trip down the floor, Green switched the ball between hands in mid-air scoring with his left making it a 70-64 game.
Despite a season-high performance at the free throw line, the Bonnies struggled in the final minute of play missing four consecutive.
Niagara took advantage.
Ameen Tanksley rebounded an air ball and used the window for the bucket.
Green drove the lane again to create a one-possession game at 70-68 with 27 ticks remaining on the clock.
But the Purple Eagles failed to bridge the gap.
A pair of Johnson free throws sealed the victory.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Mihalich said. “There were a lot of chances to pack it in ad we didn’t do that. The clear message in the locker room after the game was you got to play hard all the time. You got to do it for 40 minutes.”
Tanksley added 12 points and seven rebounds for the home side.
Green dished out three dimes.
Johnson chipped in 11 and Mosley 10 with a game-high five assists for the Bonas.
Conger had a game-high 11 rebounds.
The Niagara pressing, trapping defense proved a double-edge sword creating 17 Bonaventure turnovers.
At the same time, the Bonnies went to the free throw line a season-high 41 times. By comparison the Brown and White went to the stripe combined 55 times in their five losses. The Bonnies connected 41 times in those defeats while hitting 31 charity pieces last night.
With the win, St. Bonaventure ends an eight game Niagara winning streak in head-to-head matches. The Bonnies last win over the Purple came on November 24, 2001 – a 90-75 decision.
POY candidate, Andrew Nicholson played just 15 minutes because of foul trouble.
The Bonnies return to the Reilly Center Wednesday when George Washington comes to town for the opening of the Atlantic 10 slate.