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First-half blues doom Bona in loss to VCU

RICHMOND – In a season in which it seemed destined for the NCAA Tournament, St. Bonaventure is headed home and left to wonder how it crumbled. The Bonnies will find answers for their early exit from the Atlantic 10 Tournament by checking the first half against Virginia Commonwealth.

VCU was much better in the first two quarters and survived Bona charges to start the third and fourth quarters for a 59-50 victory Friday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the A-10 tourney in Richmond Coliseum. The Bonnies can do little more now than sit home and wait for a call unlikely to come.

The Bonnies, with a 23-7 record, now are at the mercy of the NCAA Tournament selection committee with little chance of reaching the Big Dance. They finished fourth in the A-10 after a strong start, lost four of their final eight games and suffered an early knockout from the conference tournament.

Although there’s a slim chance they could reach the NCAA’s, it’s far more likely the selection committee will look elsewhere when handing out invitations. And, really, it was one terrible first half that led to their doom. The Bonnies cut a 14-point halftime deficit to three but didn’t have the energy to finish the job.

Bona was held scoreless for more than four minutes before Emily Michael made a three-pointer with 59 seconds remaining. VCU still had a 55-46 lead that was too much to overcome in the final minute.

Senior Katie Healy had early foul trouble and finished with seven points. The Bonnies’ best player and spiritual leader was forced to the bench with four fouls with 5:53 remaining and fouled out in the closing minute. St. Bonaventure put together a 9-2 run to start the fourth quarter and drew within three points when Miranda Drummond followed up a rebound with Healy on the bench.

Drummond, who missed the five-point loss to VCU earlier in the season, finished with 13 points. Mariah Ruff had a tough afternoon from the floor, making just 3 of 22 shots and going 2 for 11 from three-point range. St. Bonaventure made just 5 of 29 attempts from three-point range.

VCU entered the game having already ramped up the intensity that comes with playing in the conference tournament. The Rams had a tune-up against crosstown rival Richmond and breezed to a 20-point win. While the game Friday was played at a neutral site, it was played 1½ miles from their home court at the Siegel Center.

The Bonnies finished one spot ahead of VCU in the standings, but it would have been a stretch to consider them the favorite given the aforementioned factors. It was imperative for Bona to get off to a strong start and now allow VCU to gain confidence as the game carried along.

Instead, it was the opposite. In fact, they played their worst half of the season.

The Rams were ready and free of jitters when they took the floor against the Bonnies, and it showed. Virtually anything that could go wrong did go wrong for Bona in the opening half. They allowed an 11-0 run to end the first quarter. Healy was on the bench with two fouls three minutes into the second quarter.

For the second time this season, and clearly not a coincidence, the Bonnies had problems finding the basket. St. Bonaventure missed 19 of their first 24 shots to start the game. Some were contested. Not enough were made.

Somehow, they trailed by only nine going into the final 10 seconds of the first half. And they were down 14 at intermission after VCU guard Isis Thorpe made a bucket, made a quick steal and made a three-pointer at the buzzer for a 29-15 lead. The Bonnies had 14 turnovers in the first half.

As you might expect, the first-half stats were gruesome . The Bonnies shot 23 percent from the floor. They were 2 for 11 from three-point range, a step back from their 2-for-11 performance in their previous meetings. The one three-pointer they made came after Nyla Rueter inadvertently banked a shot from the right wing.

It wasn’t as if VCU was lighting up the Coliseum, either. The Rams shot 40 percent in the first half and had 13 turnovers. But they managed to get enough easy buckets inside, especially with Healy on the bench, in the first two quarters. They controlled the backboard and made things difficult for Bona on offense.

The Bonnies knew they couldn’t play much worse. The one question that remained was whether they could play well enough to crawl back into the game. Bona had an 8-2 run to start the third quarter, but that was before Healy was forced back to the bench with her third foul with 7:26 left in the third quarter.

email: bgleason@buffnews.com