ALLEGANY – St. Bonaventure put itself in position for a strong finish to the regular season with a blowout win over La Salle Wednesday.
Senior forward Denzel Gregg scored a career-high 28 points to lead the Bonnies to an 83-65 rout.
The win moved Bona into a tie for fourth place with Rhode Island and George Mason in the Atlantic 10 Conference with five games to go in the regular season.
The top four teams get a bye into the quarterfinals. Bona lost to Rhode Island and beat George Mason. But the Bonnies’ remaining schedule is slightly favorable to that of Rhode Island. After a trip to first-place Dayton on Saturday, the Bonnies’ final four games are against teams in the bottom half of the conference.
“I thought this was the most complete game that we played all year on both ends of the court,” said Bona coach Mark Schmidt. “When Denzel plays like he did tonight, we can beat anybody.”
Bona stands 16-9 overall and very likely needs to win the Atlantic 10 tournament to get an NCAA Tournament bid. A first-round bye would aid that effort. But regardless of the A-10 tournament result, Bona now is in striking distance of 20 wins for the third time in the past six years and just the fourth time in the last 34 years.
Gregg’s performance demonstrated how good the Bonnies can look when he joins guards Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley as a scoring force.
La Salle (13-11, 7-6) opened the game in a triangle-and-two defense to try to contain Bona’s backcourt. Gregg attacked the rim, hit his first five shots, and had 18 points in the first half. Bona rolled to a 51-30 lead at intermission.
“Teams seem to come out and focus on the guards, so whenever Denzel comes out and plays like this it makes us hard to beat,” Adams said, “because it’s almost like pick your poison. You’re going to take one away, take two away, but you’re going to give something up.”
“I just let it come,” Gregg said. “Jay does a good job of finding me on all the pops and the rolls. I just let the game come to me.”
The 6-foot-7 Gregg averages 12 points a game. He ranks fifth in the A-10 in rebounding (7.7), 11th in field goal percentage (.511) and third in blocks (1.8 a game).
On many nights, Gregg is working against a bigger defender. He has fouled out four of the last 10 games, including Saturday’s loss at George Washington. Gregg usually makes up for the inside size disadvantage with his explosive athleticism. He’s the best athlete on the Bona team.
A crowd of 3,512 saw Gregg hit 13 of 18 shots from the field. He did most of his damage against 6-9 Demetrius Henry, a transfer from South Carolina, and 6-7 B.J. Johnson, a transfer from Syracuse.
“When he plays with the confidence he had tonight, he’s a really good player,” Schmidt said. “He didn’t play with confidence against GW, he got in foul trouble. But he bounced back and played the way he’s capable of playing.”
“He’s had a great career here,” La Salle coach John Giannini said of Gregg. “He plays with energy, and he’s a rebounder and a good defender. He gives them defensive flexibility because he can switch onto a guard. He takes good shots. He takes shots that he can make. He’s athletic and plays with energy.”
Adams managed La Salle’s defensive tactics brilliantly, producing 16 points, 12 assists and just one turnover. Bona got 18 from Mobley.
La Salle lost for the sixth time in the last eight games. The Explorers were held to 40 percent shooting from the field and 28.6 percent behind the arc, hitting just 8 of 28 threes.
Bona’s defense allowed 77.4 points a game and 39.3 percent three-point shooting in non-conference play. In A-10 play, the Bonnies are holding foes to 69 points and 33 percent three-point shooting.
“The kids did a really good job of being active changing defenses, getting out to the shooters, keeping the guys in front of us for the most part,” Schmidt said. “We didn’t foul as much. We’ve gotten better as the season’s gone along defensively. That was a key tonight.”