Andrew Nicholson, down to his final weeks in a St. Bonaventure uniform, seemed intent on leaving a lasting impression with the classmates who jammed the Reilly Center on Saturday afternoon. He threw down a couple of emphatic dunks. He stepped out to swish a pair of threes. The sellout crowd came to its feet in a show of appreciation when he was removed with 43.3 seconds left, 32 points and 13 rebounds to his name.
But the impact of Nicholson's performance and Bona's routine, 81-61 victory over Rhode Island hinges on future events. For as successful as the Bonnies have been on Bob Lanier Court (10-2), they've been comparably unsuccessful on the road (4-8). And with three of their final four games away from the Reilly Center, with anything from a first-round tourney bye to a first-round road game still on the table, there's still much to prove.
Is Nicholson primed to guide the Bonnies (14-10, 7-5) on a fruitful season-ending mission? It's appearing that way. He totaled 72 points and 41 rebounds in this three-game home stretch while totaling just five fouls. He had been disqualified in three of four games heading into the homestand.
"(It's) just positioning I guess," Nicholson said. "And the refs are just letting me play now."
A doubleheader with the 22nd-ranked Bona women and Nicholson's final regular-season home game in front of the students (they're on break Feb. 29) were the catalysts for Bona's first home sellout since 2004. Nicholson sensed the significance of the day. Rarely one to show emotion, the 6-foot-10 center from Mississauga, Ont., departed with a big grin on his face.
"It was Senior Day," he said. "It was one of the last few times I'll be playing. I was looking forward to this and I was happy with the win we got. That's pretty much why I was smiling."
"Andrew put us on his back, especially in the first half. It was great to see," Bona coach Mark Schmidt said. "Every year Andrew's gotten better. He's extended his game, expanded his game. I think one of the great things Andrew did [Saturday], he rebounded. He's been rebounding the last three or four games. To me that's more impressive than the 32 points. When he had 23 rebounds the other night, that's hard to do."
Nicholson had the Rams (5-23, 2-11) at his mercy from the outset. Bona's lead went to 20-9 when he hit a three as the trailer on the break. The advantage grew to 20 as he dunked off a backdoor feed from fellow senior Da'Quan Cook. Bona held a 48-26 halftime bulge with Nicholson having scored 20, four more than he had in the Bonnies' 72-66 overtime win over the Rams on Jan. 25.
"(It was) just the way they were playing me, just the reads pretty much, I'd say," Nicholson said. "They weren't doubling me at first so I got more comfortable."
"Nicholson played great. He was a big difference-maker," Rhode Island coach Jim Baron said. "He made some big shots, especially some threes. You make those kind of shots, it makes a big difference."
Looking at it from the loss column, Bona remained just a game out of third place in the Atlantic 10 as well as just a game out of ninth. Doubtless they'll need to break through on the road this week if they're going to earn either a first-round tourney bye or, failing that, a home game. They're at Fordham (9-16, 2-10) on Wednesday and at Charlotte on Saturday before coming home to face Saint Joseph's on Feb. 29. They conclude the regular season March 3 at La Salle.