By Taylor Nigrelli
“The Reilly Center is one of the toughest places to play in the country.”
This is a common refrain from nearly every opposing coach whose team braves the long, winding bus ride and the hostile student section to capture a win at St. Bonaventure.
“This is a tough place to play,” George Washington Head Coach Mike Lonergan said. “Great fans, the students are unbelievable. You can’t really hear the coaching staff on the sidelines. There’s just a lot of energy in here so we feel really fortunate to win.”
This claim seemed to have more validity behind it after the Bonnies won each of their first six home contests.
But the Brown and White didn’t exactly host the early 1970’s UCLA Bruins in any of those games – last night’s contest against the George Washington Colonials was the toughest test to date for the Bonnies. The Colonials (15-3, 3-1) earned top-25 votes in both the AP and USA Today Coach’s Polls.
And, for a while, it seemed as though the Bonnies might pull of an upset. The Brown and White led 30-29 at halftime and the game remained close until the latter part of the second half. In the end, the Bonnies dropped to 11-7 and 1-3 in conference play with a 79-71 loss.
The game featured a story of two halves; the first of which saw the Bonnies hold the Colonials to 29 points before the potent George Washington offense exploded for 50 in the second frame.
“I thought in the first half, we did what we wanted to do defensively,” Head Coach Mark Schmidt said. “I thought we did a good job on the big guys inside.”
Schmidt was not as pleased with the team’s effort in the second half. The Bonnies failed to uphold two-thirds of their coach’s famed trifecta. The team turned the ball over 18 times, nine each half. Also, according to Schmidt, the Bonnies failed to match the Colonials’ big shots.
“The biggest thing coming out of this game was the turnovers. We had them at the wrong time,” Schmidt said. “In the second half, they made some big shots and when we needed to make that big shot, we didn’t make it.
“We didn’t take care of the ball. We didn’t cherish it. And that’s what you’ve got to do in this league. The goals was to keep it under 10 (turnovers) and we had 10 by halftime.
Junior Jordan Gathers scored 12 points but was just 3-12 shooting from the field. He agreed the Bonnies missed their opportunities for game-changing shots.
“I think it was just us, open shots weren’t falling down,” Gathers said. “I thought we had great looks and we just didn’t make them.”
Saturday’s loss marked the third straight for the Bonnies, all either to teams that are nationally-ranked or have garnered Top-25 votes. But Schmidt and the Bonnies aren’t in the basketball business to blow halftime leads to good teams.
“It’s like I said after the UMass game, we’re not here for moral victories,” Schmidt said. “We’re here to win. I think the guys understand that they’re good enough if they execute the way they’re capable of executing. And they’ve shown in the last games that they can execute.”