By Ryan Lazo
ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — It was around late February to early March of last season when the St. Bonaventure Bonnies finally hit their stride and lived up to their preseason billing and suddenly this years squad is beginning to revisit history.
Facing a Charlotte team that was among the three teams tied with Bona for ninth place in the Atlantic 10 Conference standings, the Bonnies came out of the locker room on a mission. Bona scored the game’s first four points and the 49ers never came any closer in a 104-83 rout at the Reilly Center.
The 104 points is tied for the most Bona (14-13, 7-7) has scored against an Atlantic 10 opponent and is the first time eclipsing the century mark since a 112-107 four overtime win against Ohio on Dec. 18, 2010.
“I thought in the first half, we could not have played any better,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt said after his team’s third straight victory. “We had a little bit of a let-down in the second half though.”
A little bit of a let-down may have been the only aspect wrong with St. Bonaventure’s dominating performance that surely captured some attention from around the league. The Brown and White connected at a season-high 58 percent clip and played stingy defense, limiting Charlotte (18-10, 6-8) to just 38.7 percent shooting from the field.
It’s a performance that puts the rest of the A-10 Conference on notice.
While VCU, Saint Louis and Butler get most of the attention, and rightfully so, the defending A-10 Conference Champions are surging at the right time once again.
Charlotte learned of Bona’s penchant for going on second-half-of-the-season runs the hard way as the Brown and White barraged the 49ers with nine 3-pointers in the first half alone, connecting at a blistering 61 percent for the game — also tied for a season high.
But even with the win and statement it sent, Schmidt was not happy with the way his team finished the game.
“We talk about curbing,” Schmidt said. “It’s an IRA term about knock a guy down, open his mouth and knock his teeth out. That’s what you try to do when you have someone down and we didn’t curb them.”
That’s a scary thought for the rest of the league as the A-10 Tournament nears.
The Bonnies did not finish off Charlotte in the manner they would have preferred, but they still captured a dominating 21-point victory. And how did they accomplish that?
It starts with the play of Matthew Wright.
Wright’s importance to the Bona team has never been fully realized until the Bonnies began conference play by dropping their first four games while looking at a road trip to both Temple and Saint Joseph’s, a bad omen. Yet, Wright came out out of the shadows and scored 22 and 18 points respectively in the two Bona wins.
But a left foot injury slowed him down, limiting him to an average of just 17 minutes per game over the last four, not including missing two games against Butler and Duquesne. However, Wright is seemingly getting healthy and he showed it against the 49ers.
Wright followed up a Youssou Ndoye jump-hook with a mid-range jumper from the top of the key himself in the games opening minutes, giving him all the confidence he needed. The Toronto native would hit his first four shots of the game, three of which from beyond the arc as he compiled 20 points on the night, helping Bona pile on Charlotte.
“My high school coach said if you’re going to lace them up, there’s no excuses,” Wright said of dealing with his injury. “I told myself, ‘I’m going to play and I’m going to play as hard as I can’.”
But Wright is not the only player who is playing as hard as he can.
Eric Mosley has been garnering much of the attention over the past few weeks and for good reason. The reigning A-10 Player of the Week dropped in two 30-point games and a solid 16-point effort against Duquense.
However, the senior has continued to catch fire from beyond the arc as he connected on 5-of-8 3-point attempts en route to another 23-point performance against the 49ers. Mosley’s elevation of his game is leaving many to think back to how Andrew Nicholson elevated his game when Bona needed him most.
“I think we are playing more collectively as a team,” Mosley said after Bona racked up 22 assists against Charlotte. “But more importantly guys are making shots, but we have guys stepping up, like Dion tonight.”
Because it wasn’t just the usual suspects for the Brown and White during this victory. With Marquise Simmons and Youssou Ndoye both fouling out, someone needed to fill their minutes and Dion Wright proved to be more than a place-holder.
The freshman had not recorded a minute of game action since Feb. 6 at Butler, but there was no rust in his game. The 6-foot-7 forward proved agile around the basket, throwing down two dunks and recording two putbacks en route a career-high 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting.
With 10 Bona players cracking the scoresheet, this Bona team is confident as they hold sole possession of the ninth spot in the A-10 standings with just two games to go.
“Around this time last year we started to hit our peak,” Wright said. “We know how crucial that is going into the A-10 Tournament. So yea, I think we are starting to hit our stride.”
Scoring an average of 93 points over their three-game winning streak, a message has been sent to the rest of the league — The defending champions were not curbed and now they aim to repeat recent history with another magical finish.
Ryan Lazo can be reached on Twitter @RMLazo13