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Bonnies, Bulls deliver in the clutch; Nicholson wills comeback in OTs

Who knew that Andrew Nicholson had a demonstrative fist pump in his arsenal, or that he could howl like a coyote? Who knew that Mark Schmidt, more than a couple years separated from his playing days, could achieve that kind of hang time from a standing start?

Who ever thought that more than a few St. Bonaventure students would regret being where, Cancun? Acapulco? instead of holing up in the insanity of the Reilly Center on a February night?

The townsfolk will be talking about this game for many a year and they won't have to embellish in the least because really, what would be the point? Their Bonnies went from victory to defeat to victory over the double-overtime ride of a lifetime before putting away from Saint Joseph's, 98-93, and sewing up a bye straight into the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

If there remains any doubt concerning Andrew Nicholson's conference Player of the Year candidacy consider 3,539 witnesses ready to put in the final word on his behalf. The senior center did it all in scoring 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting from the floor and snaring 14 rebounds -- almost half Saint Joseph's total.

Nicholson kicked out to Matthew Wright for the shot that appeared to win the game with 1.9 seconds in regulation and celebrated by running down court punching air and letting out a yelp contrary to his low-key character.

But the game didn't end in regulation, not after Bona's Charlon Kloof was whistled for a dubious foul on the long inbounds pass, and C.J. Aiken hit both ends of a one-and-one. That tied it at 69 and put another five minutes on the clock, of which only 20 seconds remained when Bona trailed by five. Wright hit another three. The Hawks Chris Wilson made just one of two free throws. And Nicholson came outside to hit another three from left of straightaway with just 2.3 seconds to go, forcing OT No. 2.

"I was emotional, yeah, but we had to just stay mentally tough," Nicholson said. "That's why we did so well in the second overtime."

The Bonnies (17-10, 10-5) took over midway through the final extra session. Kloof hit from behind the arc. Nicholson followed up with his third three of the night. This time the lead stood, extending Bona's winning streak to four games and guaranteeing no worse than a fourth-place conference finish. They'll close out the regular season Saturday at La Salle.

For perhaps the first time in his five-year Bona tenure, Schmidt allowed a second or two of game time to go un-coached. When the Hawks missed their final shot he leapt and landed with a firm thud and even permitted himself a broad smile. You couldn't help but think what a shambles the program was in before his arrival.

"It's a really proud moment," Schmidt said. "When we got here five years ago we weren't very good. My assistants and myself went to work. We brought in good players. and that's how you build a program. The players are the ones that win the game. Our job as coaches is to try to put them in the best situation possible where they can be successful. All the credit goes to them. To be able to hit 10 wins in this league from where we were five years ago is a testament to our players."

Demitrius Conger added 16 points and 10 rebounds for Bona, while Da'Quan Cook produced 14 points and Kloof 12. Saint Joseph's (19-12, 9-7) got 20-point games out of guards Langston Galloway and Carol Jones.

Schmidt may have saved this game with a calculated first-half gamble. Nicholson was on the bench with two fouls. Saint Joseph's had taken a 30-24 lead. There was 5:56 remaining and a sense that this could get out of hand.

Bona was at the crossroads. Schmidt reinserted The Big Guy with 5:56 remaining. It paid off handsomely. The Bonnies not only got back in it, they led before a Wilson three sent the Hawks to the locker room ahead, 39-38.

That's the kind of night it was. Neither team led by more than six through 18 ties and 14 lead changes. The Hawks shot 50.8 percent and lost, primarily because Bona dismantled them on the boards, 49-30. The teams committed a ridiculously low 17 turnovers combined during the 50 frenzied minutes.

"You can't go on the road and not reward yourself [with] eight turnovers in a double-overtime game," said Hawks coach Phil Martelli.

"It was a great college basketball game," Schmidt said, "one that we'll remember a long time."

email: bdicesare@buffnews.com