Think beating Binghamton isn't a big deal? Try telling that to the rowdy St. Bonaventure students who swarmed the Reilly Center court as if the Bonnies had won the national championship.
The only thing missing was first-year coach Mark Schmidt being carried off Bob Lanier Court. But if he adds a few more victories like Monday's resounding 97-80 win over the Bearcats, it could touch off more joyous celebrations. After enduring the last five seasons of scanty basketball, it's a wonder the students didn't try and cut down the nets.
Is this the first step in restoring the proud St. Bonaventure tradition? Or will the Bonnies suffer with more of the disappointment of their recent seasons? Schmidt is now on the road to find out which will be his destiny.
"This," he said with conviction, "is the rebirth."
Indeed, it was quite a home debut for Schmidt and the Bonnies (1-1). They were led by seniors Zarryon Fereti and Michael Lee, who both finished with career highs in points. Fereti poured in a game-high 32 points while drilling 9 of 12 from the floor, 4 of 5 from three-point range and all 10 free throw attempts. It was also a return of sorts for Fereti.
Fereti, an Australian, was the Bonnies' second-leading scorer when he was dismissed from the team last February after 24 games. He clashed with former coach Anthony Solomon several times about the team's style of play and the final dispute apparently came after a 69-62 loss to Dayton in the Reilly Center. Fereti had just seven points and committed three turnovers in that game. He eventually was reinstated by Schmidt, who told Fereti and everyone else on the team that "the past is the past."
"Coach gave me another chance to show that I wanted to be here," Fereti said. "To get the first win in the first home game was great."
But in his first game back, a 68-57 loss at Boston University, Fereti scored just two points, on a pair of free throws, and was 0 for 4 from the floor. Schmidt didn't sugarcoat his disappointment.
"Coach told me exactly what I needed to hear," he said. "I didn't play hard on defense and that the offense affected my defense. I need to put the team before me and not play selfish. That's what I needed to hear."
Meanwhile, the silken Lee had his eighth career double-double with 26 points and a game-high 11 boards as the Bonnies outrebounded the Bearcats, 40-27. Bona also hit 8 of 14 three-pointers in the rejuvenated offense. Someone asked Lee to compare St. Bonaventure's offensive system with the Solomon years.
"Coach Schmidt designed an offense with a lot of movement, it's not stagnant," Lee said. "Guys move around and have space where they can create off the dribble and get shots for other guys. That's mainly what it's for, getting shots for your teammates and not yourself."
It was the offense, and the Bonnies' tough 1-3-1 zone, that broke the game open.
The Bearcats led, 30-29, after a steal and dunk by Mike Gordon, but the Bonnies closed the first half on a 12-3 run to take a 41-33 lead. Lee started the spurt with two free throws before Fereti's three-pointer and a jumper. Lee drove hard to the basket and hit Tyler Benson in the left corner for a trey before Fereti, who ended the run with a pair of free throws, giving him 16 points in the half.
St. Bonaventure carried that momentum into the second half with a 12-1 run. The lead reached as high as 21 points with 5:06 left.
"It's tough to win games like that when a team shoots as well as they did from the free-throw line [33 of 38]," said Binghamton coach Kevin Broadus, the former Georgetown assistant, who made his head coaching debut.
After the game, Schmidt ran over to the student section and pumped his fist as if he were banging on a door and the students smothered their new coach.
A new era of St. Bonaventure basketball was off to a good start.