If there's one thing you can say with certainty about the St. Bonaventure men's basketball team this season, it's that it is consistently unpredictable.
Sunday afternoon, Bona started hot, fizzled out, then staged a solid comeback to earn an 87-73 win over La Salle.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Bonnies (5-13, 2-3 Atlantic 10) and put them in an eighth-place tie in the A-10 standings.
In the final analysis, the Bonnies earned the win thanks to impressive shooting (52.5 percent for the game, 69 percent in the second half), having five players in double figures and a double-double from center Paul Williams.
But in getting to that point Bona took the 3,784 Reilly Center fans on a roller-coaster ride of twists, turns and one 360-degree slam dunk.
The Bonnies came out quickly, hitting three-pointers and throwing down dunks with ease. A jam by Michael Lee with 7:33 left in the half gave Bona a 31-19 lead.
From there, Bona's offense collapsed. In a stretch of 7 minutes, 34 seconds that began in the first half and extended into the second, La Salle ran off 21 straight points. The Explorers went up by 10, 45-35, just over two minutes into the second half.
"I thought our shot selection in the last 4 1/2 minutes of the first half triggered La Salle to get some transition buckets and we can't afford to give up too many transition buckets," Bona coach Anthony Solomon said. "I thought some of those [shots early in the shot clock] deflated us slightly and affected our defense at the time."
A basket by Williams at the 17:41 mark ended the Bona drought and the team found its groove on both ends of the floor to create its own 12-0 run.
What looked like a typical spiral downward for the Bonnies turned back into a winnable game as a pair of free throws by Williams put Bona up, 53-52, with 12:38 left to play. The Bonnies retained the lead the rest of the way.
"[In the first half] we couldn't stop them man to man so for a while we went to the zone and things just went right for us," La Salle coach John Giannini said. "In the second half they just started to make some shots again."
La Salle controlled the boards in the first half, holding a 26-11 advantage.
Though the Explorers won the rebounding battle, Bona did a better job on the glass in the second half, with an 18-14 edge. Better play off missed shots was a key to the Bonnies' ability to make a counter run and control the game late.
"We were able to control the backboard after halftime," said Williams, who recorded his sixth double-double of the season with 20 points and 10 rebounds. "We were able to swing the ball and get a good offensive flow going. We were playing as a team and everybody was doing their part. I felt that was big."
Offensively, the team concept was in full gear as Bona had 21 assists on 32 baskets including five from Williams who was passing well out of the post.
Lee finished with 19 points, A.J. Hawkins and Zarryon Fereti each had 14 and Tyler Relph added 11. It was Hawkins who emphatically closed out the scoring, throwing down a 360-degree dunk off the fast break with 22 seconds left.
Darnell Harris led La Salle (8-11, 1-4 A-10) with 23 points.
Sunday was nearly a must-win game for Bona if it wanted to keep alive its hopes of qualifying for the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The Bonnies moved into an eighth-place tie with Charlotte. They need to finish 12th or higher in the 14-team league to qualify for the tournament.
"I didn't look at the standings today because I didn't think it was about the other teams in our league right now," Solomon said. "I'm not focused on standings. I'm so focused on looking into our young men's minds as best as I can, checking their pulse and filling their hearts. If we can continue to improve, work hard, weather some of the disappointments as we've done, we can have some great moments through this basketball season."
Bona hosts Xavier at 7 p.m. Wednesday.