St. Bonaventure suffered another loss Saturday night and that was expected. What was a huge surprise was that the Bonnies kept things close in an 82-70 loss to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome -- and may have finally found a major sign of hope in their last non-conference game.
The biggest revelation of the Bonnies' season to date was the coming-out party of freshman forward Jourdan Morris, who had scored just one point and played only 24 minutes all season in six cameo appearances.
The 6-foot-7 Morris, the team's lone scholarship frosh, was the subject of speculation all week on Internet message boards that he was quitting the team and not returning from his native Bowie, Md., after Christmas break.
"There was zero percent truth to all that," Morris said. "I was always coming back."
Good thing. Morris returned to practice, impressed coach Anthony Solomon with his work ethic and made his first impact as a collegian. He stunned the crowd of 21,794 with 11 of his 13 points -- including a trio of first-half three-pointers -- as the Bonnies led by as many as four in the opening 20 minutes. They trailed by just one at intermission, 35-34.
"It was exciting, the most people I've ever played in front of," said Morris, who played 20 minutes. "I was just soaking up the moment."
Syracuse led by as many as 12 in the second half but the Bonnies used a 9-2 run to pull within five (71-66) on Tyler Relph's three-pointer with 3:01 left. The Bonnies got the gap down to five again when Tyler Benson's trey with 59.1 seconds to go made it 75-70 before Syracuse scored the game's last seven points, including three at the line from Paul Harris (Niagara Falls).
The Bonnies held Syracuse to just 5 of 20 from three-point range and earned a 45-45 draw in the rebounding battle after getting killed on the boards the last four games.
It was a hugely unexpected performance from a team that entered the game on a seven-game losing streak and ranked 333rd in the Ratings Percentage Index of the 336 Division I schools. Bona was a 26-point underdog.
"We're not striving for moral victories," Solomon said. "But the effort, the job we did on the backboards . . . certainly was a step up for us."
Morris' showing, of course, begs the question of why he hasn't been playing all season for a team that has been brutal at times. But Solomon has had concerns about his conditioning and even suspended Morris for one game earlier this month because of his work habits. The coach reported Morris has been much better in five practices since Christmas.
"Jourdan was alert, aware and worked very hard in those five segments," Solomon said. "Because of his work as well as his production, he was rewarded and it was great to see him contribute."
"It's hard to explain how hard he's played and the way he's come back and dominated practices," said Relph, who poured in 14 of his career-high 19 points in the second half. "I don't even think Syracuse knew who he was."
Relph drilled four of his career-best five treys in the second half. Michael Lee (14 points, 10 rebounds) and A.J. Hawkins (14 points, nine rebounds) also had solid nights for Bona.
Relph and Morris combined for all the points in an 11-0 run late in the first half that gave Bona a stunning 34-30 lead. They hit a trio of three-pointers, the last a Morris bomb from the middle of the key that forced Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim to call a timeout with 2:34 left in the half.
The Orange (11-3) scored the last five points of the period, taking the lead for good on Josh Wright's three-pointer with 45 seconds left in the half.
Syracuse, which has won 12 straight over Bona, opens Big East play here Thursday against No. 7 Pittsburgh. Bona (3-10) opens Atlantic 10 play Wednesday at home against Saint Louis.
"We've got to play better than we're playing," Boeheim said. "That's obvious to me and obvious to our players. I know [the Bonnies] have struggled and haven't played well but they played well tonight."
Forward Demetris Nichols led Syracuse with 22 points. Senior center Darryl Watkins had a career-high 18 along with nine rebounds and six blocks.
Harris added 11 points and 10 boards for the third double-double of his freshman season. He's averaging 11.3 points and 7.4 rebounds, third on the team in scoring and second in rebounds.