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Nicholson's fouls don't slow Bona; St. Francis routed as Johnson gets 19

It only took 47 seconds for Andrew Nicholson to end up on the bench. The marquee player on the St. Bonaventure men's basketball team was whistled for two quick fouls and promptly found himself on the sidelines.

But on this night, it turned out just fine for the Bonnies. Across the lineup, they executed on offense, played aggressive defense and converted turnovers into points. Their reward was an easy, if prolonged, 82-58 win over St. Francis (Pa.) in front of 3,186 at the Reilly Center on Friday night.

While the double-digit lead came early and never was in much jeopardy, the game dragged. Forget either team getting into a rhythm. The officials called a tight game -- extremely tight. There were 49 total fouls. Bona went 25 of 33 from the line and St. Francis went 17 of 25.

That was a distinct difference from Tuesday's game against N.C. State where both teams had room to move.

"In N.C. State [the officials] let us play and today it was like a touch football game," said Bona guard Matt Wright.

"It's a shame that you have adjust play toward the refs' style but that's life. We had trouble getting into the flow when the whistle kept blowing. But there's nothing you can do about it."

In this one, the Bonnies (6-5) didn't need to make many adjustments. After Nicholson headed to the bench with his two quick fouls, Wright knocked down a three pointer then drove to the hoop and completed a traditional three-point play to kick-start the Bona offense. Using an effective three-quarter court press, Bona built a double-digit lead, 12-2, by the game's first media timeout.

"I thought our guys [came] out with aggression," Bona coach Mark Schmidt said. "I told them you show respect for an opponent by going out there and playing really hard and really well."

The first half stats were impressive for the Bonnies. They shot 57.1 percent (16 of 28) and converted 12 Red Flash turnovers into 19 points. The team converted four and-one opportunities and shot 14 of 21 from the foul line in the first half.

The pace of the game, slowed by frequent whistles for fouls, combined with a low-energy holiday crowd lulled the Bonnies into some complacency midway in the half. St. Francis (3-9) found some room to move on offense and hit some shots to construct a 10-3 run and close the game to 33-21. Bona regrouped and maintained its double-digit lead.

The second half saw much of the same, though St. Francis hit a few more shots. Nicholson again picked up early fouls, getting his fourth with 12:26 left in the game. He had with seven points and two rebounds. But the offense came in different ways, leading with junior guard Chris Johnson who netted a career-high 19 points, shooting 5 of 9 from the field and 9 for 10 from the free-throw line. Demitrius Conger added 17 points and Wright 15.

In all the Bonnies shot 52 percent (26 of 50) thanks in large part to layups and good inside play while scoring 23 points off turnovers.

The playing time for reserves was a key opportunity to try and cultivate some depth for Atlantic 10 season. But even with the great stats and aggressive play, there were times when the Bonnies felt they could have played with more focus.

St. Bonaventure will close out 2011 with a trip to Niagara on Friday.

email: amoritz@buffnews.com