BROOKLYN – Mark Schmidt hoped to get guard Jaylen Adams in the lineup after he had surgery last month, but the freshman’s health is hardly his only dilemma. Schmidt worried the 18-year-old wouldn’t stand up to the pressure after missing a month before the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
For a while Thursday, the bigger problem for St. Bonaventure was its upperclassmen keeping their composure against Saint Joseph’s. The Bonnies were uptight and appeared nervous early in the game. Seven-foot senior Youssou Ndoye was slapped with a technical 3½ minutes into the game.
Marcus Posley couldn’t shoot straight.
The Bonnies were in danger of collapsing under a barrage of missed shots before pulling themselves together in the second half and pulling away from Saint Joseph’s for a 60-49 victory in the Barclays Center. At times, it was a reminder of the gruesome meeting the two teams had in Philadelphia last month.
St. Bonaventure, without warning and certainly without expectation, took off on a 16-3 burst that began about four minutes into the second half and turned a 34-27 deficit into a 43-37 lead. Suddenly, confidence that appeared shaken in the first half was restored. Their defense picked up. They gained control of the boards.
Mostly, they regained control of themselves.
“Our defense was critical in the first half,” Schmidt said. “We could have been down 15-20 points if we didn’t defend. That’s how bad our offense was. We defended, and we started hitting shots in the second half. Our guys really responded.”
The Bonnies will play Dayton in the quarterfinals. Any victory is an achievement come tournament time, but Bona shouldn’t be enamored with anything but the result against Saint Joe’s. If they play the same way against Dayton as they did in the first half Thursday, they’ll be headed home immediately after the game.
For now, they’re still in the tournament. The way the Atlantic 10 has gone this season, the Bonnies can win the whole thing. And so can anyone else.
The final stats were prettier than the performance Thursday. Ndoye finished with 18 points and eight rebounds to lead four scorers in double figures.
Posley controlled the tempo in the second half and had 13 points and six assists. Denzel Gregg, inserted into the starting lineup for Adams, had 15 rebounds.
Posley missed his first five shots and had two fouls on him in the first 11-plus minutes. He didn’t make a shot until 3:05 remained in the first half. Bona made only four of its first 20 shots from the field. The Bonnies were fortunate to be trailing by five points at intermission.
“I just have to stay positive,” Posley said. “I’m starting at the point guard spot now, so when they see me stressing out, most likely the team will do the same. My main thing is to stay positive, lift Youssou up and get everything rolling.”
The Hawks were atrocious offensively. They made 9 of their 26 shots in the first half, and that’s when they were playing well. They made only 5 of 27 shots in the second half and had three field goals in the final 16 minutes, 13 seconds.
The Bonnies won because they did the little things well. They challenged shots. They outrebounded Saint Joe’s, 27-13, in the final 20 minutes. They limited DeAndre’ Bembry to 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting. They validated their two wins over the Hawks with another when it mattered most.
St. Bonaventure had major problems this season with Dayton, the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. The Flyers won both games during the regular season and made it look easy, handing the Bonnies their worst loss this year at home and were dominant again in Dayton.
You never know what will happen when March rolls around. Last year, however, Bona knocked off Saint Louis and reached the conference tournament semifinals. VCU is one of the best teams in the conference but could have – and probably should have – lost to 12th-seeded Fordham on Thursday.
The Bonnies are still alive.
“The most physical team is going to win,” Schmidt said. “The physical team is the one that gets the breaks. I’m proud of our effort. We move on.”