ST. BONAVENTURE – The 3,881 fans inside the Reilly Center, all of whom seemed to be standing, serving up a reminder of what this place can be on its best night, could feel it coming.
The student section, too, evidenced just moments later by how it spilled onto the floor with two seconds remaining.
Yes, on the heels of its most shocking loss of the season, and with the memory still vivid of how it let the first one against this team get away, Bona, finally, seemed to be on its way to a win over a ranked opponent, finally seemed ready to put away a team of this caliber.
And then Matthew Wright made it a reality.
The 6-foot-4 guard splashed a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 51 seconds remaining, pushing the Bonnies’ lead to 72-63, capping an outstanding second-half performance and bringing the RC to a frenzy.
And when it was over just seconds later, after the students had stormed the floor and then retreated and stormed again, the Bonnies had that victory, toppling No. 19/21 Massachusetts, 78-65, on Bob Lanier Court Wednesday night.
“I put up on the blackboard before the game a minute and 13 seconds,” coach Mark Schmidt said afterward. “That was the amount of time we had left at UMass (when we still had the lead). I told the guys we were good enough to beat these guys for 38 minutes and 47 seconds, all we need to do is find 1:13.
“Give these guys credit. We didn’t play a great offensive game, especially in the first half, but we defended, we scrapped and I’m really proud of our effort.”
A couple of weeks after allowing a big second half lead to slip away against the Minutemen, the Bonnies (13-8, 3-4), who snapped a 24-game losing streak to ranked opponents with Wednesday’s victory, maintained their advantage, doused any semblance of a UMass rally.
The big sequence came midway through the second half when Trey Davis buried a 3-pointer to bring the Minutemen (17-3, 4-2) to within one at 55-54. On Bona’s next possession, as the shotclock wound down, Andell Cumberbatch banked a home a 3-pointer to give his team some space. The shot ignited an 11-2 run, pushing the Bonnies’ lead to 10, one they wouldn’t relinquish.
“That was a lucky shot,” Schmidt admitted, “but you know, sometimes in this game you need luck. We’ve had a lot of opportunities where the ball hasn’t gone in and this was a night where … it was a big shot. We were struggling at the time, it gave us some momentum and we carried it through.”
Added Wright, who was one of the five Bonnies in double figures with 11 points on 3-for-8 shooting: “We didn’t really have anything going on with that play. We messed the play up and I saw Coach throw his hands in the air when he shot it. When it went in it’s like the basketball gods are finally on our side.”
Bona, which got 14 points from Charlon Kloof and 12 each from Dion Wright (6 rebounds) and Youssou Ndoye (3 blocks), overcame a sloppy first half from both teams – it shot a mere 21 percent; UMass 31 percent – with an impressive final 20 minutes to push its season mark to 9-1 in the RC this season.
Schmidt’s team scored nine of the first 12 points of the second half to take a 35-28 lead and then later got a highlight reel dunk from Denzel Gregg and a pair of free throws from Ndoye to make it a 47-38 contest.
The Minutemen would soon make their move, but Bona was too much. It shot 53 percent for the frame, scored 52 total points (after taking a 26-25 lead into the break) and made its free throws, finishing 30-of-34 for the game.
What was the difference between the first 20 minutes and the last 20?
“We played in the Reilly Center, that’s what,” Schmidt said with a laugh. “You shoot better at home, you play better at home, you got the crowd behind you, and that’s why we won. We executed better, we took care of the ball, we didn’t get rattled. When they made a run, we answered it.”
And in emphatic fashion. With 1:25 Davis, who tallied a career-high 18 points, hit a shot inside to cut the Bona lead to 69-63. That’s when Wright nailed his 3-pointer, all but sealing the game.
“I was more just relieved,” said Wright, who put hands in the air, as if to signify a 3-pointer and the game, of the shot. “I missed my other three (3s) and a few of them I felt like they rattled in and out. But I felt like the law percentage, one of these has to go eventually.
“Charlon drove it hard, I curled and I was open for a split second and that’s all I needed. I didn’t think about it or anything, I just let it go and I’m just relieved that we finally got the monkey off our back.”
Bona played a strong defensive game against perhaps the Atlantic 10’s best offensive team, holding the Minutemen to 42 percent, forcing 17 turnovers and holding a 45-35 advantage on the boards. The big key was limiting star point guard Chaz Williams to 11 points on 3-for-10 shooting.
“Yeah, that was the key,” Schmidt said. “I thought we did a great job (on him) up in Amherst. I think we did just as good a job tonight. We emphasize all the time corralling him. You can’t play him one-on-one, you have to play him two-on-one and three-on-one. And we did that.
“Charlon and Jordan did a good job, but it was really a team effort. Six assists and four turnovers; you’ll take that every time with the best point guard in the league.”