By Ryan Lazo
ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — St. Bonaventure may have the talent to score at will prompting cheers from the fans in the Reilly Center but in last night’s game against Siena, all they heard was the clank of the rim.
The ball clanked, banged and hit the rim a total of 37 times as the Bonnies only shot 35.1 percent from the field, yet they defeated Siena 58-43 to retain The Franciscan Cup for the third consecutive year.
How is that possible?
Because this team knows how to play defense. In fact, over the final 8:09 of the second half, the Bonnies (5-2) held Siena (2-7) to just three points the rest of the way.
“This is the prime example of stressing to your team that defense has to be the staple,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said following the lowest amount of points his team surrendered since Nov. 20, 2009. “Offense is fickle. Jump-shooting is fickle. If you defend and take care of the basketball, you have a chance to win.”
An offense being fickle would be an understatement for this night.
It seemed for much of the game, Bona was so inept offensively that they couldn’t hit net if it fell on top of them. And knowing full well it was one of those nights that threatened to put basketball back into the 1920s, Charlon Kloof took control of the defense.
In his second season with St. Bonaventure, Kloof has shown the shut-down ability he has on defense. Much like Darelle Revis does in the NFL, Kloof does on the basketball court.
With his long arms, quick feet and determination, Kloof routinely shuts down the opposing team’s best guard.
“He has a gift,” Schmidt said after Kloof held Siena’s Evan Hymes to 5 points on just 2-for-10 shooting. “He has that mentality. He wants to be a stopper. When we play good defense, it starts at the point guard position.”
And it’s the willingness to take on the challenge of guarding the opposing team’s best player that fueled Kloof’s desire to play basketball in the states.
“The first reason I came to America was because of all the great guards,” Kloof said after his 8-point, two assists and two steal effort. “I enjoy it. I enjoy slowing them down.”
But Kloof had help on the defensive side of the ball. Seven different Bona players recorded a steal on the night — Bona had eight in total — with Jordan Gathers being a spark plug off the bench.
Even though the sophomore guard played just 13 minutes, he was able to record a steal and force Siena into a turnover off of an inbounds trap play.
“They’re a great defensive team,” Siena head coach Mitch Buonaguro said after his team’s 17 turnover effort. “They played us well, forced us into mistakes. We knew going in they were a good defensive team.”
But you can’t win without scoring and Bona’s senior captain took care of that with a stat-sheet stuffing of a night.
Demitrius Conger shot just 4-for-11 from the field, but he was able to rack up 14 points, grab eight rebounds, dish out four assists, block two shots and topped it all off with one steal.
Conger put his importance to the team on display in the nationally televised game, showcasing how he can affect the game in many different ways as he played the full 40 minutes.
While the team has confidence in their senior leader, having a defense that can win games also helps.
“I told the guys in the locker room that we shot 2-for-20 from 3-point range and still won by 15,” Schmidt said. “Each year you are going to have nights where you don’t shoot the ball well and the good teams win those games because they defend.”
On their two poorest shooting nights of the season, at Cornell where they shot just 41 percent and against Siena, Bona earned victories.
Luckily for the Bonnies, there is no BCS system in college basketball. They don’t have to be pretty, you just have to get the win. And with a defense that never relents, Bona can have the confidence to know they can overcome the most tragic of offensive performances.
Ryan Lazo can be reached on Twitter @RMLazo13