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Bona is worse now than during scandal

There was a time when this game would have touched off a wild celebration in the Koessler Center, when it actually meant something for Canisius to beat St. Bonaventure in the latest installment of our quaint college basketball rivalry.

But on Saturday, the Golden Griffins' 80-71 victory had a hollow quality, a sense of drab inevitability. This is no offense to Canisius, which put on a solid, entertaining show and seems to be on the upswing under new head coach Tom Parrotta and precocious freshman point guard Frank Turner.

The fact is, the Griffs might have beaten the worst Division I program in the country. The Bonnies are a bad team, a program in disarray, an utter embarrassment. They came into the game ranked 332nd of 336 Division I teams in the country. Under fourth-year coach Anthony Solomon, the Bonnies have struck rock bottom.

Solomon was a logical choice when he took over in the wake of the scandal a nice, clean-living family man with the Notre Dame imprimatur. St. Bonaventure won the news conference by hiring him. Now it's time to start winning games again. This is Solomon's fourth season, and the time for coddling him is over.

This must be painful for the Bona faithful to accept, but their once-proud hoops program is in worse shape than it was when Solomon took over in 2003. Yes, the sanctions set them back. But there's no excuse for the sorry roster Solomon has put together. It's an ill-conceived collection of soft, marginally talented players.

The Bonnies lost their seventh straight on Saturday, and it was easy to see why they've struggled. They do nothing well. They are a poor shooting team. They're a bad passing team. They can't rebound. They're slow in defensive transition. They're a bad defensive team, period. Their big men couldn't stop the mail.

It would be almost defensible if Solomon were losing with promising freshmen and sophomores, raw but gifted players who offered hope for the future. But he's been cutting corners, trying to win with transfers. Only three of the top eight players in his rotation (or what passes for a rotation) started in Olean as freshmen.

There's no continuity in the program, no natural team evolution. So is it any wonder that there's so little flow in the Bonnies' game, that they play in such a disjointed way? There's little of the on-court chemistry that makes basketball such a beautiful game when it's being played the right way.

I watched the Bonnies play for 40 minutes and didn't see a single ball fake. There were no back-cuts, nary an attempt to go back-door. This is basketball? The half-court offense was amateurish at best. Bona had the bigger team but made very little attempt to establish itself in the post in the early going.

Canisius was playing without its leading scorer, Corey Herring. It barely mattered. Parrotta has the Griffs playing with verve and passion, and they simply outhustled Solomon's squad in the first half. After 20 minutes, Canisius had more offensive rebounds (15) than the Bonnies had total (14).

Bona guard Tyler Relph said his team is actually playing with more purpose these days. If so, I'm glad I didn't have to sit through the previous eight losses for the 3-9 squad. The Bonnies played like a team that has grown accustomed to losing. Like any bad team, they make promising runs and then revert to their bumbling ways.

Midway through the second half, the Bonnies cut an 11-point deficit to 64-60. They promptly: gave up an open three-pointer; missed a layup; turned the ball over; gave up an easy basket; missed the front end of two straight one-and-ones; and failed to get back in transition in time to contest a Darnell Wilson dunk.

It's mainly about coaching. Solomon was a bridge through the scandal, but enough is enough. The Bonnies play in the Atlantic 10, a high mid-major league. Coaches before him have convinced talented players to come to Olean. Bona fans are falling into an old, familiar trap accepting a lower competitive standard. Just because it got in trouble once doesn't mean the program has to be bad forever.

You dream of having a coach who can win 20 games. Solomon has won 20 games in four years. That's two wins for every player who has left the program. On Saturday, he announced that junior backup guard James Williams had quit. After the game, I asked Solomon if he was concerned that losing all those players and games might reflect badly on his performance.

"I'm going to continue to focus on what I was hired to do," Solomon said, "which was to lead this basketball program, improve it on a daily basis and continue to work with the young men that are committed to this university and this basketball program."

Solomon was hired to lead the Bonnies out of scandal and national embarrassment. There's no more scandal. The embarrassment is another matter.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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