PHILADELPHIA — For the second straight game, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team dug itself into a big hole against an opponent it was expected to beat.
And for the second straight game, it couldn’t climb all the way out.
Trailing by seven at halftime, the Bonnies fell behind by 17 early in the second half against a Saint Joseph’s team determined to end a seven-game losing streak in the series. They pulled to within five with 4:02 remaining and trailed by only four with 1:08 left, but ultimately dropped an 85-78 decision before 4,061 fans Saturday night inside Hagan Arena.
Suddenly, a Bona (11-4, 1-2) squad that entered the week on an eight-game win streak, receiving Top 25 votes and in clear contention for an NCAA Tournament berth has lost two in a row in unsettling fashion.
And now it’s postseason future has been severely clouded.
“We gotta find ourselves,” junior forward Courtney Stockard managed. “Right now, we dropped two in a row … two very important games. We gotta find ourselves and we gotta buckle down, because we’re desperate right now.
“To play your best, you play with a sense of urgency automatically, and that’s what we need. Even if we hadn’t lost those games, we still gotta keep that sense of urgency with us, and still need to find it on the defensive end.”
Its recent slide following a glittering 11-2 start that included a 20-point Atlantic 10-opening win over UMass can be traced to the defensive side.
Bona entered the week ranked in the top three in the conference in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense and 3-point field goal defense. In these last two games, however, it’s been picked apart. On Wednesday, the Flyers scored 82 points on 56 percent shooting. On Saturday, the Hawks (7-7) scored 85 points on 46 percent shooting, and its two seniors had big-time efforts, with forward James Demery scoring 24 points and guard Shavar Newkirk going for 24.
For Bona, meanwhile, Jaylen Adams scored 19 points with seven assists and five turnovers and Matt Mobley, after a 31-point, 10-rebound performance last year in the same building, had two points on 1-for-5 shooting in 36 minutes.
“I think it’s mainly because we haven’t been defending the way we normally,” acknowledged Stockard, when asked how these last two games went off the rails. “We’re just letting guys get too comfortable on the offensive end. I think for us to get back on track, we need to buckle down on defense and come together as one.
“We’re starting to lose our identity on defense. We need to get it back.”
Bona pulled to within four on a Stockard layup with 1:06 remaining, but a couple of miscues and missed shots over the final minute prevented it from coming all the way back.
After finishing that tough layup, Stockard swiped the ball out of the inbounder’s hands while he stood out of bounds and was given a technical foul. Following an empty possession at the other end, a Bona pass up the floor was intercepted by Newkirk, who made one of two free throws to make it a five-point game.
On the next possession, Izaiah Brockington missed a 3-pointer and Demery made one of two at the other end to nearly put the game out of reach.
The ending spoiled a nice night for Stockard, who finished with 17 points and went 9-for-9 at the free throw line, and an impressive homecoming for the Philadelphia native Brockington, who scored 16 points and hit a number of big shots to keep the Bonnies in the game.
In both instances this week, Bona fell behind big to teams that entered the game with sub-.500 records. While it’s always tough to win in Dayton, the same UMass team Bona beat by 20 upended the Flyers 62-60 Saturday in their own building.
On Monday, coach Mark Schmidt’s squad had received seven Top 25 points and was being referred to as a sure-fire NCAA team. By Saturday, it appeared as though some of that noise might have had a negative effect.
“We try not to pay attention to the outside stuff, the media,” Stockard said. “We just try to focus on what we gotta do to win. With us quote un-quote getting top votes, it is hard for us to ignore it, but at the same time, we can’t really let that make us complacent, make us relaxed. We just gotta keep playing basketball the way we do.”
In the end, Bona saw a seven-game win streak against the Hawks come to an end. It also lost back-to-back games for the first time since November of last season.
And now, it’ll start looking for answers again defensively.
“It’s mainly because we’re silent,” Stockard said. “We’re not really talking to each other out there. With us being on the road and the crowd getting loud, you gotta talk even more, you gotta talk even louder.
“That’s just something the last two road games we haven’t done enough of. If we can get back to our defensive principles that we had throughout the whole nonconference, we should be pretty good. But we have to get back to that.”