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INCONSISTENT BONNIES COME UP SHORT WHEN IT COUNTS

Tim Winn is a senior point guard and tri-captain. He's never been one to run away from blame. So he pointed the finger right at himself after St. Bonaventure came unglued down the stretch Tuesday night in a 73-60 loss to Kent.

"I'm the floor general," Winn said, "so I take the responsibility on myself to run the team. They made us do a lot of uncharacteristic things tonight."

That depends on your perspective. Tuesday's collapse, which saw them fail to score a field goal and get outscored, 25-5, over the final 10:23, was all too characteristic of the Jim Baron era.

The Bonnies lost their poise; they rushed shots and panicked when the game began to slip away; they were soft on the defensive boards; they failed to attack Kent's press for easy baskets; they were slow to the ball defensively.

This year's team was supposed to have outgrown those qualities. With three seniors and a junior in the starting lineup, they had jumped out to a 6-1 start and vaulted into the Top 25 in the all-important computer rankings.

But you know how it is with Bona. As soon as you start to believe in them, the moment you start to contemplate the unthinkable -- an NCAA berth -- reality comes smashing into your face like a well-placed elbow.

Mind you, it was no disgrace losing to Kent, a classy, well-coached squad that upset Miami University and Wally Szczerbiak in last year's Mid-American Conference championship game to earn the school's first-ever NCAA berth.

So the Golden Flashes have been where the Bonnies dream of going. They've been on the Big Dance floor. This was a chance for Bona to see how it measured up against a rising mid-major program, and in the decisive moments they were woefully lacking.

"They're a good basketball team and we knew it coming in," Baron said. "We did get a little bit tired. I was concerned about that. I have been this whole month."

The Bonnies are not a deep team. They are without sophomore guard J.R. Bremer, who broke a bone in his foot the first week of practice. Sophomore Robert Cheeks has been a disappointment. Caswell Cyrus, the gifted 6-9 center, is hobbled by a sprained arch. Cyrus played but was clearly hobbled. Peter Van Paassen, the 6-11 junior, has a bad back.

They had some legitimate excuses. Still, it wasn't so much that they lost to Kent, it was the way it happened. The Bonnies demonstrated the same lack of poise and purpose that has hurt them so many times in big road games and in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

Proven teams, like Kent, know how to finish games. They know how to play through rough stretches. Teams without a winning identity allow bad moments to become compounded.

The Bonnies led, 51-42, with 13 minutes left. Then they went to pieces. They threw up bad shot after bad shot. They missed free throws. They turned the ball over on an inbounds play.

Even Winn, their leader and competitive conscience, played like a freshman in the last five minutes. Twice he tried to take matters into his own hands by driving wildly to the hoop -- and got his shot blocked. Another time, he drove and the ball slipped out of his hands and went straight up in the air about 20 feet.

Meanwhile, Kent was making all the right plays -- working the ball patiently, finding seams in the Bona defense, getting open jumpers. They're a good MAC team. I wouldn't pencil them in as one of the possible wins on UB's schedule.

"They were real impressive tonight," Winn said. "Even when we went up by nine, they came at us with the same intensity. They were very consistent with their effort and that's what it takes."

The Bonnies weren't consistent and intense enough, not for a team of Kent's caliber. Winn said every loss should be a learning experience, and he promised the Bonnies would learn from this one.

Their power rating isn't likely to drop significantly because of this loss. But if they expect to contend for an NCAA berth, they can't afford many losses like this one. It should be a slap in the face, a reminder of how far they have yet to go.

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