By Ryan Lazo
ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — Fresh off of a loss at Arkansas State, St. Bonaventure took to the floor at the Reilly Center to avenge two consecutive losses to Cleveland State and what followed stunned everyone.
The Bonnies (6-3) dominated the game from the opening minute of action and overwhelmed a young, but talented Vikings (6-4) squad without their starting forward for a 87-53 victory.
But even if Anton Grady suited up, nothing would have changed.
Bona lost the opening tip and not much else. After falling behind 1-0 just 38 seconds into the game, Charlon Kloof raced up the court, nailed a 3-pointer and was fouled to complete a four-point play, putting Bona ahead for the rest of the afternoon.
“It gives our guys confidence,” Bonnies’ coach Mark Schmidt said after his team’s biggest victory since last year’s rout of Fordham. “I think they realize and see that if we rebound and defend, we can be pretty good.”
Pretty good might be an understatement. It should be scary good because that’s how this Bona team looked in front of the 3,223 fans in the Reilly Center.
Cleveland State won over 100 games over the past four seasons, but St. Bonaventure’s pressure defense, clean switches and good communication held the Vikings without a field goal for the first 9:10 of the game.
And it was a defense, one that forced 20 turnovers, that fueled an offense that scored 87 points total, a season-high.
“Defense is everything,” Schmidt said after his team scored 26 points off of turnovers. “It’s the catalyst that got us going offensively. I’ve preached it since I’ve been here, you win by playing defense.”
But when you shoot 53.6 percent for the game and have 11 different players crack the score sheet, you are also tough to deal with offensively.
Leading the way for Bona was Demitrius Conger who recorded a double-double with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting and grabbing 11 rebounds, including five on the offensive glass.
It was not a surprising effort from the co-captain. Conger routinely fills up the stat sheets and does the little things needed to win. His calmness on the court and humbleness off of it belies the talent he possesses.
However, it was Charlon Kloof’s performance that really sank Cleveland State’s hopes from the get-go. Kloof scored Bona’s first seven points of the game and ended with 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range.
The aggressiveness that has been lacking early this season resurfaced, leaving Kloof looking more like the point guard that set a career-high in points with 18 against Saint Joseph’s during the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
“There was going to be no way of us losing the game by not giving effort,” Kloof said after the game. “We came in the game giving effort, bringing energy. The preparation was really good.”
Perhaps no one brought more energy to the game than Michael Davenport. After struggling through the early slate of the season, not even remotely resembling the player that brought fans to their feet, the senior found the touch.
Missing an entire season surely made Davenport rusty, but he also didn’t have his trademark explosiveness — until now. Soaring high over the rim, the Cincinnati native grabbed an offensive board that led to a Bona bucket.
But he was not done.
Davenport picked off an inbounds pass and threw the ball up the court to Matthew Wright as he drained a buzzer-beating jumper before half. And nothing created more excitement than seeing the senior soar through the air for his trademark dunk as he totaled nine points on 4-of-5 shooting.
“Losing the last two games that we played against them, it was kind of like payback,” Davenport said. “That was the theme. Coach Moore preached payback all week and that’s something coach Schmidt elaborated on. We wanted to get that bad taste out of our mouths.”
The bad taste is out of their mouths now and it’s replaced instead with a swagger, especially when in the confines of the Reilly Center. Bona has now won 20 out of their last 22 home games, creating an aura that has been missed.
But they are also confident because of the depth they have.
Ndoye routinely changed the Vikings’ shot attempts by just his mere presence and to highlight his impact, he recorded two blocks and picked up three steals.
Even Dion Wright got into the action with a perfect 3-for-3 shooting day for nine points, including a corner three. Cleveland State lost by 34 points even after holding Bona’s leading scorer — Chris Johnson — to just two points on the afternoon.
It was not lost on Vikings’ head coach Gary Waters.
“They got a good team, guys,” Waters said to the media of the Bonnies. “They’re going to compete in the Atlantic 10. They just have to believe in themselves and they will compete.”
Waters is right.
This Bona team is talented enough to compete in the Atlantic 10. Their 34-point victory against CSU will turn heads but to keep that attention, Bona needs to consistently bring their best, something we haven’t yet seen out of the Brown and White.
Ryan Lazo can be reached on Twitter @RMLazo13