By Ryan Lazo
RICHMOND — It wasn’t the most ideal of circumstances for St. Bonaventure University as they limped into the Verizon Wireless Center riding a three-game losing streak while staring at a Virginia Commonwealth University squad celebrating Senior Day and with it the added emotions it brings.
Adding to the unfortunate situation for Bona was a Rams’ three-game winning streak and an undefeated mark at home, making picking up a win a highly unlikely chain of events. And it got even more difficult for the Bonnies once the whistle blew and they had won the opening tip.
It would be the last aspect of the game Bona won as they missed their first nine shots from the field, including seven point-blank chances at the rim. The misses around the rim only fueled an already energetic VCU team to a 9-0 run on the strength of eight Rob Brandenburg points in his last game in front of his home fans.
Matthew Wright responded with eight straight Bona points, but Bona could not slow down the red-hot shooting of the Rams as the deficit ballooned to 12 points at the 9:55 mark of the first half. While the Bonnies would fight back throughout a gritty effort in the second half, the tone was set in a disappointing 86-67 effort for the fourth-straight loss.
“We got off to a shaky start where I think we missed seven, eight or nine lay-ups in the beginning for whatever reason I don’t know,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said after the game. “We got down early and lost some confidence … but I thought our guys in the second half really fought their way back.”
And that’s where this Bona team shared a snapshot of why they are a dangerous team to face and were able to defeat six teams currently in the Top 100 of the RPI this season.
With a No. 9 seed all but assured no matter the outcome of the game against the Rams, Bona could have packed it in after a 20-minute span of basketball witnessed them trailing by 16 points and having endured a 9-3 VCU run to end the half. Yet, St. Bonaventure stiffened forcing two consecutive bad-shots off of the Rams’ half-court sets while Charlon Kloof who finished with 9 points and Wright fueled a seven-point swing.
It was just a sampling of what was in store as Bona would continue to withstand each Rams’ run before pulling to just a six-point deficit at the 9:05 mark on a Wright runner in the lane. But the amount of times the Bonnies pulled to within striking distance plus the constant pressure VCU employed seemingly tired them out as they were outscored 26-to-13 the rest of the way.
“That’s why teams pressure. You can beat the press for the first 30 minutes of the game, but eventually mentally, physically it will get to you,” Wright said after his 21-point effort on 7-of-14 shooting. “They chop you down slowly. We had gotten it down to six and then all of a sudden I look up at the scoreboard and we were down by 20.”
The reason for the lightning quick turnaround was the cumulative effect of HAVOC. Over the final 9:05, St. Bonaventure connected on just 4-of-9 field goal attempts and turned the ball over five times which helped VCU tally 31 points off of turnovers.
Turnovers were a point of emphasis for St. Bonaventure — especially against a team like the Rams who relies on pressure defense — but unforced errors underneath on bad passes in the paint, bobbling of the ball and inbounding blunders plagued Bona.
“You never do it on your own,” Schmidt said of his team’s 24 turnovers. “Their pressure, you can’t simulate it in practice. It’s not like we were out there playing 5-on-0 … but their pressure had a lot to do with it.”
Whether it was on Bona’s own doing or the relentlessness of VCU, it needs to be cleaned up before taking the court at the Barclays Center at the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament where La Salle will be waiting. Bona will need a better scoring output against the Explorers than they had against VCU with just one double digit scorer as Youssou Ndoye and Andell Cumberbatch finished tied for second on the team with 9 points.
Although the Bonnies also proved that no matter what the deficit or how hostile the environment, they can compete with any team though there are no championships handed to teams who merely play close games.
“No matter if you are the No. 1 seed or the No. 13 seed, you play every game to win,” Schmidt said. “As I tell the guys, you work all year for 30 opportunities and this was one of them … no matter if it had anything to do with the standings or not, it’s another game.
Added Wright, “At this point we are not into moral victories; it’s about wins and losses. It doesn’t matter how hard you play, if you lose, you lose. It’s too late in the season to be thinking about, ‘oh yea we played hard.’ It’s been the case all season. We just haven’t been able to finish. Myself, the team and the coaches are tired of that result being the outcome of games.”
Bona has one more chance to reverse the story of their season if they can become revitalized by the opportunity of playing in a blank slate or they can continue their trend of bad efforts, ending the campaign in disappointment once again.
Ryan Lazo is the sports editor at The Hopewell News. You can follow him on Twitter @ByRyanLazo.