By Paul Gotham
ROCHESTER, NY — For more than a decade the St. Bonaventure Bonnies’ trip to Rochester has been one of frustration. Saturday afternoon the Bonnies put a string of single-digit losses behind them.
Chris Johnson led four seniors in double figures as St. Bonaventure defeated the Niagara Purple Eagles, 80-75 in Little Three action on Les Harrison Court at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, New York.
Johnson led a second-half long-range attack as the Bonnies erased a halftime deficit to defeat their long-time rival for the second year in a row.
With the Bonnies trailing by three after a pair of Antoine Mason free throws, Charlon Kloof found Johnson open in the left corner for a catch-and-shoot trey. The duo combined two possessions later when Kloof found Johnson open in the right corner this time for a 38-35 advantage.
The Bonnies hit six-of-nine from behind the arc to start the second half.
“Our effort was good. We made the plays when we needed to make the plays,” said St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt. “Guys made shots when they needed to make shots.”
The Bonnies took their largest lead of the game midway through the second half.
Johnson drove the baseline and finished at the rim. At the opposite end, Youssou Ndoye took one of four charges on the night for the Bona defense. The offense made good on Ndoye’s effort when Matthew Wright found Eric Mosley spotting up at the top of the key for another three-ball.
Ndoye slipped a pass through Niagara’s interior defense to Demitrius Conger for a deuce, and SBU led 56-48.
“One of the strengths of our team is that you never know who is going to be that guy,” Schmidt explained as he referred to last year when the Bonnies were led by NBA first-round draft pick, Andrew Nicholson. “This year it’s a number of guys. To have four guys in double figures that’s a team that’s going to be hard to guard.”
Conger paced the Bonnies as they took a five-point lead from the opening tip. The senior forward finished a thunderous two-handed slam when Wright led him into the open floor after a steal. One possession later, Conger pulled up along the baseline for a deuce, and SBU led 8-3.
A pair of freshmen sparked Niagara’s early attack.
Freshmen guard, Tahjere McCall used a backdoor cut on the wing and took a pass from from fellow classmate T.J. Cline for a layup. Cline followed on the next trip with a baseline drive from the left corner to close the gap to one.
Ameen Tanksley gave Niagara its first lead at 12-11 with a pair of free throws.
McCall hit one of two charity tosses before finishing a two-on-one break when Juan’ya Green hit him in stride with a behind-the-head pass for a layup, and NU led 15-11.
Chris Johnson hit a catch-and-shoot three from the left corner. Charlon Kloof tied the game at 18 with a left-handed layup in traffic.
The Purple Eagles scored seven straight for their largest lead of the game in the latter stages of the first stanza.
Juan’ya Green went to his left two dribbles and hit a mid-range pull up jumper. Cline led Marvin Jordan to the left corner for a trifecta on the trip. Joe Thomas finished a rebound and putback, and NU led 25-18.
Michael Davenport and Marquise Simmons came off the bench and helped Bona close the gap before the break. Davenport connected twice from behind the arc. Simmons finished a rebound and putback then used a dropstep to set up a baby hook in the lane, and Bona trailed 31-30.
SBU’s bench outscored Niagara’s 31-18. Simmons led the way with a dozen points. One year after tearing his achilles tendon on his first shift of the season, Simmons notched his first career double-double with a game-high 12 boards. Mosley followed with 11 points off the pine. Davenport added eight.
Johnson hit seven-of-seventeen from the field and three-of-six behind the arc for a game-high 19 points.
Conger had 18 points and 10 rebounds to go with five assists.
Wright also had five dimes for the Bonnies.
Antoine Mason led Niagara with 19 points. Ameen Tanksley added 16. Cline and Green chipped in with 11. Green handed out five helpers. McCall also had five assists.
Last year, the Bonnies fell at the Blue Cross Arena to North Carolina State, 67-65 on C.J. Leslie’s buzzer-beater.
In 2010, Virginia Tech needed overtime to trim the Brown and White, 76-68. St. John’s beat the Bonnies 69-68 in 2009. West Virginia beat SBU, 66-61 in 2008.
SBU improves to 3-1 with the win. The Bonnies travel to Ohio, Wednesday to take on the undefeated Bobcats. Ohio advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of last year’s NCAA tournament before falling in overtime to North Carolina, 73-65.
Niagara opens MAAC play Wednesday night when the travel to New Rochelle, New York to play the Iona Gaels.
Bona leads the all-time series with Niagara, 84-68.