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Conger steps up to lead Bona victory; Niagara's rally falls just short

Forget any ideas of Demitrius Conger representing the future of St. Bonaventure basketball. The junior swingman from Brooklyn continues to slowly become the present.

Conger made up for the limited minutes of center Andrew Nicholson by scoring 27 points and pulling down a game-high 11 rebounds as the Bonnies built a big lead and then -- in typical Bona fashion -- barely held on for a 72-70 victory over Niagara before a sellout crowd of 2,200 at the Gallagher Center.

Bona (7-5) led almost all the way in completing a sweep of Big 4 rivals Niagara, UB and Canisius and ending an eight-game losing streak to the Purple Eagles. They did it with little assistance from Nicholson, the preseason all-American candidate who'll need a big Atlantic 10 season to live up to that projection. Foul trouble kept Nicholson glued to the bench for all but 15 minutes and opened the way for Conger to again step to the fore. His 27 points were a career high and marked his third game of 20-plus on the season.

"Demitrius Conger played the best basketball he's played in his career here," Bona coach Mark Schmidt said. "He was the difference."

Bona did not make Conger available at the postgame news conference.

Down as many as 17, Niagara came storming back behind the exploits of Juan'ya Green, the nation's second-leading freshman scorer. Green put the Purple Eagles on his back and nearly carried them all the way to even while scoring 26 second-half points, including 17 in the last nine minutes. He had Niagara within two, 70-68, when he scored on a drive with 20.5 seconds left. But Chris Johnson countered with two free throws at the other end, enabling Bona's escape.

"It was almost a horrible game until the second half when our guys realized what can happen if you play hard and you really compete," Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said. "I'm proud of our guys. A lot of chances to pack it in and we didn't do that."

"We just had dry spells where we couldn't score," Ameen Tanksley said.

Bona held Niagara to 25 percent shooting in the first half and seemed to have things under control until Green began driving the basket with impunity during the final 10 minutes.

"I thought defensively for the first 37 minutes we probably couldn't have played better," Schmidt said.

Nicholson had just nine points in 15 minutes for the Bonnies and was disqualified for taking his fifth foul, which was a technical with 4:26 to go when he appeared to kick at Tanksley during a skirmish under the basket following a Nicholson inside bucket. Bona had gone nearly seven minutes without a field goal before Nicholson's strike after enduring similar stretches against Arkansas State, Illinois and Loyola (Md.).

Johnson finished with 11 and Eric Mosley 10 and a game-high five assists for Bona. Tanksley (12) was the only other Purple Eagle in double figures.

It was with Nicholson out the final 8:39 of the first half that Bona pulled away to a 38-25 halftime advantage. Conger took control early in the second half and had the Bonnies threatening to pull far away. He jammed home a rebound early and then put a 7-0 Bona run into motion with a drive through the lane. When Da'Quan Cook added two free throws and Mosley cashed a three it was Bona by 47-30.

Green, who finished with 32 points, rallied Niagara back into contention. In a span of five minutes he scored all 11 of Niagara's points and suddenly the Purple Eagles were within 54-49 with just over five minutes on the clock. But Niagara couldn't complete the comeback.

email: bdicesare@buffnews.com