ALLEGANY – The only shame in the outcome was Matt Mobley dragging himself back to the locker room after it was over Thursday with an emptiness that was all too familiar. St. Bonaventure’s junior transfer did everything asked and a little more. He played his heart out against Canisius. He carried his team.
And he fell short.
Flip back the calendar to March when the Bonnies failed to get an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. They exceeded expectations and earned a share of the Atlantic 10 title. Mobley watched from the sidelines while Marcus Posley and Dion Wright did everything in their power to reach the Big Dance, only to leave with aspirations unfulfilled.
The nausea that comes with losing is easier to stomach when there’s a scoreboard showing the winner and loser. Canisius deserved its 106-101 overtime victory over St. Bonaventure in the most thrilling game at the Reilly Center in recent memory. Other than the result, the rowdies who were home for the holidays would have enjoyed this one.
Defense was optional but, man, what an entertaining game.
Local hoop fans aren’t yet familiar with Mobley, who grew up in Worcester, Mass., and played two seasons at Central Connecticut State. They’ll get to know him soon enough. He scored a career-high 33 points Thursday and buried a desperation three-pointer with 3.7 second left in regulation. He had eight rebounds and eight assists. He was spectacular.
“We lost the game, so it doesn’t really matter to me,” Mobley said. “We should have won the game. I thought we were going to come into overtime and get the job done. We didn’t play defense the whole game. That was the reason we lost.”
Canisius will surprise some teams in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Reggie Witherspoon had his team ready for a tough game on the road against Bona. The Griffs came out hard from the first minute and never stopped. They were relentless and unselfish. If that keeps up, they could make a push in their conference.
Mobley, who averaged 19.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, and Jaylen Adams made up the third highest-scoring tandem in the country before combining for 50 points Thursday. Mobley didn’t score until 8:31 remained in the first half before heating up with making three three-pointers and scoring 13 points in less than five minutes and 15 in the first half.
Comparisons to Posley are unavoidable, so let’s address them. Mobley is taller, longer and more explosive. He showed off his athleticism against Canisius when he turned a routine drive to the bucket into a ferocious, two-handed slam in traffic late in the first half.
Mobley was forced to man the point after Adams fouled out with four minutes left in the second half. He had a critical turnover late in the regulation. He missed two driving layups. His off-balance, three-pointer in the final seconds of overtime was off the mark. Posley was a clutch shooter who was stronger, more creative and more dependable with the ball.
“Ever since last year was over and I was eligible to play, I’ve been getting Marcus Posley questions everywhere,” Mobley said. “He was a great player. I’m trying to do what I do and help my team win as much as possible. If you don’t have confidence, you really shouldn’t be playing the game.”
At times, with Adams struggling to score, Mobley was all Bona had while struggling against a strong perimeter team in Canisius. Teams in the Atlantic 10 will be forced to decide which Bona guard will hurt them. UB shut down Mobley three weeks ago while Adams torched them for 31 points in a victory.
The point is Mobley gives Bona a terrific option after it appeared they would be without one. Little did people know, behind the closed doors of practice last season, there were times he was actually better than Posley. He has been an ideal complement to Adams and can play the point if needed, giving Bona another 1-2 punch.
“He kept us in the game and hit some big shots,” Schmidt said. “He’s a talented kid. He needs to continue to work at the other end. From an offensive standpoint, he and the whole team couldn’t have played much better. We have to play better as a team on the other end. That’s the focus.”
St. Bonaventure played its final tuneup before conference play begins Dec. 30 against UMass. Mobley has played so well that Atlantic 10 teams will be prepared for him when Bona gets into the teeth of its schedule. A few coaches in the conference will be wondering how they missed him.
Mobley was a good player in high school, but he had too many littles for Division I consideration: He was a little small, a little frail, a little weak with his ball-handling and perimeter game. When the difference between Division I recruits is razor thin, too many littles can be too much for coaches to take a chance.
“He was something,” Witherspoon said. “You just give him a crack, just a little room, and that’s all he needs. He shoots them like layups. His ability to stay under control and his stamina, to play that long, was impressive.”
Mobley actually had two extra years before he arrived in Olean. He was two inches shorter as a senior and, with no D-I team in pursuit, spent a year in prep school. He feared the lack of interest in him would follow, so he grabbed the first full ride offered and landed at Central Connecticut.
Central Connecticut, which plays in the Northeast Conference, provided him with the two things he needed most: an opportunity and playing time. He grew into his body and gained confidence. The year away from hoops helped him develop into a player who belonged in the Atlantic 10.
“Coach told me during the sit-out year that he wanted me to try to dominate offensively and defensively as much as I can," Mobley said. “I had the mindset that practices were basically my games. I tried to go as hard as possible to get them and myself better.”
Schmidt recruits from everywhere, but his gift is identifying projects and prospects who were overlooked. Rather than chase high-end recruits who are more likely to embrace bigger and better than what Olean offers, he seeks out raw freshmen he can develop and others who need refining.
In Mobley, he has a polished 22-year-old junior who was ready to make an impact in a tough, underrated conference. The A-10 isn’t the best conference, but it’s one of the most competitive. Mobley checked all the boxes of the latter. Schmidt wasn’t looking for the next Posley. He wanted the first Mobley.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” Mobley said. “It was part of the reason I decided to do it. It was hard at times, sitting out and not being able to help the team when they were struggling in some games. I had to sit there and hope they get it done. It was obviously worth it. It’s paying off a little bit now.”