Chuck Pollock

ST. BONAVENTURE — The students weren’t out in force ... and neither were the fans.

And that’s too bad, because those who didn’t show up missed what was, arguably, one of the dozen best men’s basketball games in Reilly Center history.

Everybody has their favorites of course, but in the 47 years of the RC, it’s hard to imagine more than that many which were more entertaining than the Bonnies’ 99-94 victory over Massachusetts on Wednesday night.

But it was viewed by one of the smallest student sections in recent memory — even though mid-semester break doesn’t start until Friday — and the official attendance, on a cold, snowy night, was a modest 3,468.

 

THOSE WHO showed up saw Bona score an absolutely critical win, the triumph pushing it to 5-7 in the Atlantic 10, and alone in 12th place, the final spot of the 16-team conference’s tournament qualifiers come mid-March in Brooklyn.

But it wasn’t just the victory, but rather the way it unfolded.

It started benignly enough.

The Bonnies seemed to be dominating, but were up only 38-31 at intermission.

Then came the second half ... the 20 minutes that committed this game to a place of honor in the Reilly Center archives.

Bona and UMass combined to score 124 points in that span and hit 40 of 43 free throws.

The Minutemen totaled 63 points in barely 19 minutes ... a figure they failed to match in three full games this season.

St. Bonaventure answered with 61, outscoring themselves in three losses during this campaign.

How unusual was that half’s production?

The Bonnies’ previous high-scoring half was 48 against Cleveland State and their most generous 20 minutes was 53 to Iona.

UMass’ best half, before last night, was scoring 48 against Ohio and surrendering 49 to Virginia Commonwealth.

As Bonnies’ coach Mark Schmidt admitted of Massachusetts’ output, “It’s amazing, a team scores 63 points in the second half and you still win.”

One reason was the foulline where Bona was an otherworldly 32-of-33, outscoring UMass by 15 points.

And Schmidt, unable to stifle a chuckle, concluded, “When we shoot bad, my assistants are the foul-shooting coaches. (But) yesterday I took over and we did a helluva job ... other than Chris (Johnson, 8-of-9) missing that one, we would have shot 100 percent.”

UMass was a solid 17-of-20 from the stripe, meaning both teams combined to hit 49-of-53 free throws, an incredible 93 percent ... the Bonnies converting 97 for the game.

 

BUT THE foulline was only one reason Bona prevailed.

Senior  Eric Mosley, who scored 30 points in Saturday’s heartbreaking 83-80 overtime loss at Richmond, followed with 39 against the Minutemen.

The 5-foot-9 guard scored the most points in regulation for the Bonnies since forward Greg Sanders had 46 in a 94-92 loss to Dick Vitale-coached Detroit at the RC in 1977. In that game, before the NCAA adopted the three-point shot, Sanders would have had over 50 under today’s rules.

However, Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg admitted of Mosley’s game,  “I didn’t realize, as it was going on, that he had 39. I thought he was playing well and knocked down a lot of threes (5-of-8) , but with the pace of the game there were a lot of opportunities for guys to score.”

And when the Minutemen went to their press, after the break, it seemed the game was at their pace.

“Absolutely,” he said, “(even) though they were playing four guards and one big guy, I had to like our chances ... that’s the best way for us to play. When we got into it and got flowing, I thought the flow of the game was fantastic for us.”

But the Bonnies had an answer.

“When a team presses you, you can do two things,” Schmidt said.  “You can break it and pull it back and that gives them a free press ... or you can attack it. And if you give them a free press, they’re going to attack you harder. The game plan was, if (we) broke it, and (we) had numbers, (we) attack.”

And it worked.

However, Johnson, who had a career high 22 points, admitted of the frenetic second half, “It’s a lot of fun, but there’s a lot of stress too ... we’re trying to win ... trying to get to Brooklyn too.

“We know how it is in close games and to be on the other side of it. It’s great when things are going your way, but when you see them coming back (from 12 points down to up three with 9:40 to play), you just want to push and put your all into it.”

 

AND ON this night the Bonnies did.

But, get this, both teams should have been well over 100 points.

UMass MISSED 13 lay-ups and tip-ins and the Bonnies failed on nine.

“If you have plays as a big-time college basketball player, you have to make those,” Kellogg said.  “So (our) 94 points could have been 110.

“But we probably gave up a little bit too much at 99, obviously. It was kind of a fast-paced game ... to our liking, but we should be making those (lay-ups and tips) more frequently.”

However, the result was a possible season-saver for the Bonnies, coming off consecutive three-point overtime losses to LaSalle at the RC and in Richmond.

“It was a great game ... the effort of our guys coming off two heartbreakers,” Schmidt concluded. “We’ve lost some close games recently ... so it’s good to win. We’ve been close in a lot of games ... but in athletics, close isn’t good enough ... you have to win.”

And last night the Bonnies did.

(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor can be reached at cpollock@oleantimesherald.com)

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