ST. BONAVENTURE — Though the St. Bonaventure women’s basketball team lost in Tuesday’s season-opener, coach Jesse Fleming indicated there were several positives to use going forward, starting tonight against Niagara at the Reilly Center (105.9 FM, 7 o’clock).
On Tuesday, the Bonnies lost to St. John’s, 68-56. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that few — if any — people gave St. Bonaventure a chance. The Red Storm was selected to finish second in the Big East, so a spirited effort against a top tier outfit, a team expected to make the NCAA Tournament, is a big positive. As such, the team played better than expected, and Fleming would agree with that assessment.
“I liked our effort,” Fleming said. “I care about the effort. We didn’t play as hard as we can play but there were some really good stretches. It was a complete 180 from (the exhibition against) Cortland. It’s an emphasis. I want us to play really hard on tape. That will result in victories. I want to see that we’re going to be there every single game. I want us to treat every single game like it’s the most important game of the year.”
THE Bonnies now look ahead, as the middle of three straight home games in six days comes tonight against the Purple Eagles.
While St. Bonaventure has one game already in, this is the season opener for Niagara. Led by Preseason MAAC First Team selection Jai Moore, Niagara is looking to improve on its 12-19 (8-10 MAAC) record from a year ago. Moore, a senior guard, led Niagara with better than 17 points per game a year ago. The team’s second and third-leading scorers, Maggie McIntyre (10 points) and Emerald Ekpiteta (7 points, 7 rebounds), also return. All three were selected as Big 4 Team honorees.
“Experienced team,” Fleming said of Niagara. “They lost their (power forward and center) but three really experienced guards who played a ton. Moore had 17 points per game last year and is as good a scorer as we will see in the A-10. McIntyre has started for them three or four years and knows the system. Ekpiteta came on last year and was replacing one of the seniors. They have four players who played a lot near the end of the year and are comfortable in that system. No team plays harder than them. They fly around. You have to be ready to go to play Niagara.”
Fleming didn’t want to recall much about last year’s 76-48 win over Niagara, but did note that how Niagara finished that game once being down big could be an indicator on how tonight’s game could go.
“We’re going to see a ton of press (defense),” Fleming said. “We got a lead on them last year and they pressed and got some good things against us. They will want to deny our point guard, and we have to be able to handle the pressure. (Offensively), they will run a lot of ball screens to try to break you down and get a good look.”
In last year’s game, the Bonnies committed 24 turnovers, though they did shoot 58 percent from the field. Fleming said a similar effort tonight could reverse that result.
“We made a lot of shots (last year),” Fleming said. “We shared it, we did a nice job. But shot-making goes away. We have to take care of it. If we have 24 turnovers against them this year we’re not going to win, that’s for sure. We have to play a 40-minute game against Niagara.”
IN Tuesday’s game, Asianae Johnson scored 18 points and Emily Calabrese added 12 points and seven rebounds. While overall the Bonnies shot well from the floor (25-of-55, 45 percent), they did not shoot well from long range (1-of-12) and committed 16 turnovers.
“Six or seven times in transition we jogged back instead of sprinting, and St. John’s with their guards is going to make you pay,” he said. “That was a great lesson learned. We have to be better in all three phrases. We have to be able to shoot the three ball if we want our offense to function. (Offensively), we have to do a better job in getting us to flow in our offense. We are breaking down from our set play into our secondary action and motion. We have some talented offensive players, but if we want to do something in the league we have to have our offense create clean shots. We have to run out stuff better and defending more so we can get better stuff in transition.”