OLEAN – You’ve heard of March Madness? How about December Delirium?
Upsets are a huge part of the appeal of college basketball, and St. Bonaventure was on the wrong end of one Monday night.
The Bonnies were surprised by lowly Maryland Eastern Shore, 82-80, before a semester-break crowd of 3,293 at the Reilly Center.
Go figure. Bona (7-3) is off to its best start in coach Mark Schmidt’s eight-year tenure. It entered the game ranked first in the Atlantic 10 Conference in defensive field goal percentage, holding foes to 37.9 percent shooting.
Maryland Eastern Shore proceeded to shoot the lights out, hitting 15 of its first 22 shots – that’s 68 percent – and finishing the game at 53.7 percent from the field.
Maryland Eastern Shore went 6-24 last season. The Hawks have not had a winning season since 1993-94. They were picked to finish 11th out of 13 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which was ranked 31st out of 32 Division I leagues in the country last year. The Atlantic 10 was the sixth-ranked conference in the country.
Improbable? That’s why they play the games.
“The first half our defense wasn’t there,” Schmidt said. ““We didn’t defend the post well, we didn’t defend the three well. We were lethargic. It’s almost like we took a Christmas vacation when the ball went up at 7 o’clock for an hour.
“We played with more energy in the second half. Consequently we fought back and had a chance to win. But when you’re down by 12 at halftime, you have to play a perfect second half, and we didn’t do that. We played a good second half, we didn’t play a great second half.”
Maryland Eastern Shore (6-8) is not the same scuffling outfit it was last season.
The Hawks hired a new coach, Bobby Collins, who built a winner at Division II Winston-Salem State. He turned over the roster, bringing in seven new players.
The Hawks’ starting five consisted of five upperclassmen, all looking like men, with well-built bodies and beards. They showed up to play.
“We took the long bus drive from Old Dominion Saturday and watched a load of them on the bus,” Collins said of Bona. “We got off the bus and watched another session. We woke up yesterday and watched ‘em again. Before we went to bed after the Cowboys won, we watched them again. We kind of knew them.”
Their 6-foot-9, 250-pound center Michael Myers entered the game averaging eight free throw attempts a game, second most in the country. He was a force inside, scoring 19 points and grabbing seven rebounds. The Hawks’ three guards combined to hit 10 of 17 three-point shots.
“They were in their 1-3-1,” Collins said. “When you’re in the 1-3-1, you’re susceptible to leaving somebody open. So I put three shooters out there, and they made some shots.”
“Our guys knew watching tape this wasn’t going to be an easy game, that they had an Atlantic 10 big guy inside, that they had good guards on the perimeter,” Schmidt said. “They’re a good team. You look at some of those guys’ strokes, and the ball should go in.”
Bona trailed at halftime, 45-33. The Bonnies rallied thanks to a big game from shooting guard Marcus Posley and forged a brief lead, 55-54. But the Hawks kept hitting shots and never trailed the final 11 minutes.
Bona freshman Jay Adams missed a three-pointer from the side with 7 seconds left.
“We definitely didn’t come out the way we’re supposed to come out, and it definitely showed in the first half,” Posley said. “If we would have played both halves the way we played the second half it would have been a different outcome.”
Posley scored 26 points. Bona got 18 from center Youssou Ndoye and 16 from forward Dion Wright.
Schmidt suffered a torn Achilles tendon in practice Friday and was wearing a boot on his right foot. He’s scheduled to have surgery to repair the tear this week. Bona is off until Dec. 30 when it plays at Delaware.