St. Bonaventure had an enjoyable season-opening trip to the Virgin Islands last week, scoring lots of points in beating power conference teams Virginia Tech and Michigan before coming back to upstate New York with a 2-1 record.
On Saturday afternoon, however, the Bonnies had the look of jet-lagged travelers who didn't feel like ending their vacation and going back to work.
There was no running, no gunning and no composure in the final minutes as the Bonnies fell to Saint Louis, 56-54, in Blue Cross Arena. The Billikens outscored Bonaventure 10-2 over the final 4:54, and Chris Sloan hit two free throws with 3.1 seconds to give Saint Louis its first victory of the season.
"Obviously we're disappointed with the outcome," St. Bonaventure coach Jan van Breda Kolff said. "When we needed a defensive stop, we got it for most of the night, but when we needed a basket we couldn't get that."
For the second time in three seasons, St. Bonaventure held a game in Blue Cross Arena to tap into Bona's upstate alumni, but the 6,575 went home grumbling. Missed shots and turnovers down the stretch and underwhelming point totals from starters Mike Gansey (seven -- all in the first half), Patricio Prato (three) and Robert Cheeks (two) spoiled Bona's only stop near Western New York until Christmastime.
"We just never scored. We just couldn't score," van Breda Kolff said. "For a team that was 14th in the country last year in scoring and starting the first two games of our season averaging 90, we just haven't gotten that rhythm in the half-court game, so to speak."
St. Bonaventure held its largest lead of the game, 48-41, with 8:17 left and was up six with 4:54 to play but watched Saint Louis get back-to-back threes from Drew Deiner to tie at 52 with 2:02 to go. Calvin Brown, a 6-foot-8, 255-pound freshman who got his first start for Bona, badly missed a short jumper but forced a turnover to make it Bona ball again. Saulis Dumbliauskas missed a three for Bona, but ever-hustling Joe Shepherd (10 points) got the ball back with a steal.
That gave Bona the ball with 47.6 seconds left. But when Dumbliauskas set a screen near the top of the key for Green, Green thought he was cutting for the ball. The turnover was recovered by Saint Louis' Marque Perry (12 points), who was fouled by Shepherd and hit two free throws for a 54-52 lead -- the Billikens' first of the second half -- with 28.9 seconds to go.
Green gave Bona fans something to jump out of their seats for with an acrobatic driving layup off the glass with 6.5 seconds left to tie the game -- but not for long. Bona permitted a quick outlet pass to Sloan on the left side of the court, and he had a clear path to the basket until a leaping Gansey fouled him with 3.1 seconds left.
Green got off a desperation heave from inside midcourt, but the buzzer had already sounded, and the shot was waved off.
"We had a tough start to our season to losing our first two home games to the supposed mid-majors (Tennessee-Martin and Southwest Missouri State)," said Billikens coach Brad Soderberg, who earned his first career head-coaching victory. He added that he learned to slow the Bonnies down by studying Brigham Young's 66-57 win over Bona in Monday's Paradise Jam championship.
Bona's next three games are at Boston College (Wednesday), at Alabama (Saturday) and at Davidson on Dec. 10. The Bonnies are at Canisius on Dec. 19 and won't play in their Reilly Center home until Dec. 21 versus Kent State.