Facing the prospect of back-to-back losses and slipping further down the Atlantic-10 Conference standings, St. Bonaventure's defense and rebounding roared to life. So did Chris Matthews.
Matthews was scoreless in the first half but poured in 18 points in the final 20 minutes and gave the Bonnies the lead for good on a three-pointer with 2:24 left. That helped push Bona (13-11, 4-7) to a much-needed 83-75 win over Massachusetts in front of 5,011 Saturday at the Reilly Center.
Matthews was 0 for 7 in the first half -- including 0 for 5 from beyond the arc -- but bounced back in the second half and was 6 of 9 from the floor and 2 of 5 from long range. Matthews, a 6-foot-4 junior transfer from Washington State, nailed his second three of the game to give the Bonnies a 75-73 lead then hit four consecutive free throws in the final 38.6 seconds to help ice the game.
"Chris is a shooter and he missed some good open looks in the first half," said St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt. "He wasn't missing by much. He's a shooter and shooters have to keep on shooting."
That was the message Matthews' teammates relayed to him at halftime when the Bonnies trailed, 38-31.
"The first half I was kind of down on myself but the team was telling me to keep playing," said Matthews, who hit the only two three-pointers for the Bonnies. "They were saying, 'Don't play soft and keep hunting your shot.' "
Maurice Thomas, who helped carry the offense early in the second half, also had 18 points, while Jonathan Hall had 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Bonnies. But along with Matthews, it was the play of sophomore point guard Malcolm Eleby that stood out.
Schmidt said Eleby, whose play has been uneven this season, had perhaps his best performance as a collegian. Eleby finished with 12 points, seven assists and just one turnover in 29 minutes.
"He played well against LaSalle, but he played even better [Saturday]," Schmidt said.
After Matthews' three-point dagger, the Minutemen worked the ball up the court quickly and point guard Chris Lowe thought he had a sliver of space, but Andrew Nicholson was alert enough to partially block the attempt.
Bona ran some clock and Eleby dumped the ball inside to Nicholson who threw it down hard with two hands for a 77-73 lead. UMass' Ricky Harris took an ugly runner and the Nicholson grabbed the rebound. They worked the ball to the 6-9 freshman again but Nicholson missed a jump hook and in a scramble for the rebound, the ball went out of bounds and a jump ball was called. The possession arrow pointed to St. Bonaventure with 38.6 seconds left and the Bonnies only had to make free throws to win.
They connected on six consecutive from the line -- four by Matthews and two more from Eleby -- to take home the victory. Not only did the Bonnies hold the Minutemen (9-14, 4-6) to just two field goals in the final 2:53, but they outrebounded UMass, 48-28, and after committing 11 turnovers before halftime, they had just two in the second half.
Former Niagara Falls High School forward Tyrell Lynch, now a UMass freshman, scored four points and finished with three rebounds. Lynch had a career best 10 points back on Dec. 13 in an upset over defending national champion Kansas.