ST. BONAVENTURE — It was one of the reasons the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team won back-to-back games in Philadelphia in a span of four nights.
And it’s one of the reasons they haven’t quite found the consistency they’ve been looking for, part of the explanation for why the Bonnies sit at 9-10 (2-4 conference) entering the final full month of the 2012-13 season.
The play of junior guard Matthew Wright.
Through 19 games, the Toronto native’s campaign has run very close to parallel to that of his team’s.
Wright struggled throughout the non-conference season, shooting just 38 percent, including a woeful 6-for-36 from 3-point range, his own up-and-downs reflective of the fact Bona finished the OOC a mediocre 7-6, with a nice start to December, but a harrowing finish.
However, the Martingrove High School (Ontario) product has turned his season around since the start of conference play, shooting a robust 61 percent, including 12-of-21 from 3-point range, while averaging 11 points in those six contests.
The Bonnies during that span?
They held tough with then-No. 24 VCU, lost at the buzzer to Xavier and topped Temple and Saint Joseph’s , two of the league’s favorites coming into the year in convincing fashion away from the Reilly Center.
There is certainly more to whether the Bonnies win or lose than just Wright, who has taken his season averages to nine points on 45 percent shooting (33 percent from beyond the arc).
Bona, as a whole, shoots a higher percentage from 3-point range when it’s winning, it takes care of the ball better, it makes the key plays down the stretch and doesn’t succumb to an opponent’s sometimes-inevitable rally.
But, as his coach, Mark Schmidt, recently said: “When he’s shooting the ball, it makes our team that much better.”
It’s clear that one of the big keys for the Bonnies is to get Wright going, and get him going early. When he’s playing well, Bona generally has four legitimate scoring options — alongside of Demitrius Conger, Chris Johnson and Eric Mosley — which makes Schmidt’s team very tough offensively. When he’s shooting the ball well from 3, as Johnson and Mosley (each at 44 percent) have done all season, it creates a whole new dimension for the offense, and opens up the paint from Conger to be at his best.
Consider, against the Owls and Hawks, the 6-foot-4, 190-pound guard went an impressive 14-for-20, including 8-for-10 from 3-point range, while going off for 40 points.
Bona gets the big fourth scorer, shoots a combined
21-of-38 from 3-point range as a team and has both games wrapped up before the final minute.
Against Saint Louis last Saturday, however, Wright never got going against the Billikens’ vaunted half -court man, and finished just 1-for-3 with two points before leaving the game in the final 10 minutes with an injured left foot.
The concept of Wright playing well being proportional to Bona playing well isn’t just true for this season. Over his three-year career, Bona is an impressive 14-6 when he hits double figures, including a perfect 8-0 in its march to an Atlantic 10 title last season.
Aside from Saint Louis, a game in which just about every player had a tough time offensively, Wright has finally started to look like a starting shooting guard throughout conference play.
Through six games, and despite that two-point effort, he ranks third in the league in field goal percentage (.605, 23-of-38), third in 3-point field goal percentage (.571) and is tied for ninth in 3-point makes per game (2.0).
So what’s been the difference between this month and his mostly miserable November and December?
“I feel like I’m getting into more of a rhythm,” he said recently. “I’ve been more of a rhythm shooter. I haven’t really been a spot-up shooter, especially in high school. I’ve been more off the bounce.
“I was still confident in my shot. I felt like nothing was wrong with my mechanics. Eventually I felt like I was going to get hot during the season. I just felt like I had to stay in the gym, maintain my repetition, keep my routine and eventually my shots would fall.”
Added Schmidt after Wright’s 18-point performance against Saint Joe’s: “Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not. When you get on a streak like he’s been on, it’s confidence. The rim looks bigger. When you’re missing, the rim looks like it’s so small you can’t put a softball in it.”
Wright went through something similar to this his freshman season (he started the year just 3-for-28 from 3s) and wound up shooting 43 percent from 3-point range in league play. That’s what Schmidt and the Bonnies are hoping for — and need — from him over these final 10 games, except to an even higher degree.
It may take some time, however.
The junior guard is still feeling the effects of the injury to the arch of his left foot and may not be 100 percent for the Duquesne game Saturday afternoon (Bona is still saying that he’s “day-to-day” and “probable”).
It’s an injury that could potentially linger in some way throughout the course of the season.
It remains to be seen how much his foot will effect him, but one thing is for sure: the Bonnies need him, and need him to play well.
(J.P. Butler, a Times Herald sports writer, can be reached at email@example.com)