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Bona players gave it all they had and then some

BROOKLYN – As the game carried along Friday night, as St. Bonaventure kept fighting and Dion Wright made big shot after big shot, as the clock continued to wind inside of a minute, as the pressure mounted and hope persisted, there remained an unsettling question:

How long would it last?

The Bonnies were almost flawless all evening. Their shooting hovered around 60 percent all night, fluctuating higher when Wright released the ball along the baseline, dipping slightly when Dayton’s pressure defense challenged others, while adhering to the blue print for a major upset in the Atlanta 10 Tournament quarterfinals.

And it would have been a shocker, too, considering Dayton had been among the best teams in the Atlantic 10 for the past two years. They had played big games and won big games. A year ago, they reached the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. And they hammered Bona twice before coming back for more Friday.

It was all there for Bona, as it was last year, when the Bonnies knocked off top-seeded Saint Louis in the quarterfinals. This time, the second-seeded Flyers were bracing for a similar fate against the Bonnies, a team often overlooked based on talent but a team that manages to stick around with inspired players.

How long would it continue?

Not until six seconds remained in the game, with the Bonnies one more three-pointer away from winning or a drive from Marcus Posley from overtime, was it clear St. Bonaventure would be going home. Posley was stripped on the final possession, and Dayton escaped with a 75-71 victory in Barclays Center.

“It was a great game,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt said. “Frustrating how we lost at the end, but give our guys credit. Going into the game, Dayton had dominated us in two games this year. Dion couldn’t have played better. Marcus couldn’t have played better. I can’t complain about the effort of our team.”

Wright had the best game of his career – heck, the best game of any players’ careers not named Christian Laettner or Bill Walton – and kept the Bonnies in contention all evening. He made his first 10 shots and had 24 points in the book before he missed with 5:41 remaining. Even that one was halfway down before rattling out.

Bona can rest peacefully knowing it gave everything it had and perhaps even a little more. The Bonnies didn’t buckle to the pressure. They didn’t back down to a superior Dayton team. They made shots. They played aggressive defense. They rebounded well. They fought.

The Bonnies would not have been in position to win without Wright, who was superb. Posley finished with a team-high 26 points. The Bonnies saw victory starting to disappear when Denzel Gregg’s bad pass landed in the hands of Jordan Sibert moments after Sibert nailed a three for a 69-67 Dayton lead.

Still, after Posley made two big shots in the final 40 seconds, they had a chance. It vanished when Dayton power forward Kendall Pollard poked the ball away from Posley near the lane, setting up Kyle Davis for an easy layup before the buzzer.

“I saw a gap and thought I could get to the basket,” Posley said. “Unfortunately, he got his hand on the ball. It didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, but I’m proud of the guys for a great effort today.”

If the Bonnies had any advantage over the Flyers, it was playing the previous day against Saint Joseph’s. Bona was accustomed to their surroundings and had their legs under them. Dayton was given an extra day to rest, the reward for earning the No. 2 seed in the tournament. It was hardly a favor.

VCU nearly lost its first game to an inferior Fordham team that played the previous day. Top-seeded Davidson came back from an 18-point deficit and needed a buzzer-beating shot to overcome a lesser La Salle team that played Thursday. The Bonnies came out faster and cleaner Friday than they did against Saint Joe’s.

Ultimately, the Flyers were the better team. They had an easier time scoring and forced 16 turnovers, two in the final minute. They maintained their poise as the intensity magnified with each possession in the final minutes.

“That core played in a lot of big games,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “They’ve been in some tough spots. A lot of games we played this year were like this. We’re not going to get shaken up a whole lot.”

Youssou Ndoye, the 7-foot center for Bona, injured his knee early in the first half. He moved better later, but he did not play to full capacity. The Bonnies were counting on him to have a positive impact.

Instead, Pollard dominated inside and played bigger than his 6-foot-6 frame. He scored 15 points in the first half, made 11 of 15 shots in the game and finished with 26 points. He was a beast. Ndoye didn’t attempt a shot until 12 minutes remained in the second half and finished with four points and eight rebounds.

“Kendall did a great job of being aggressive,” Sibert said. “He led us today. We fed off his energy.”

What’s next for Bona? The Bonnies played well enough to earn a bid to a postseason tournament. They could get a bid for the NIT, but it’s more likely they will be invited to a smaller tournament. Schmidt wasn’t ready for the end.

He has been in Olean for eight seasons, long enough to forget about the dreary days under Anthony Solomon, long enough for many to take Schmidt for granted. He’s a fantastic coach with a knack for developing raw players with potential. It seems a matter of time before a better school comes along and snatches him.

How long can Bona keep it going? It depends how long they can keep their coach.

The Bonnies weren’t expected to be a factor in the conference this year, but they ended up winning 10 games in the regular season. They were 6-2 in the A-10 tournament over their past three appearances. They won 11 games this season against A-10 teams and finished 18-13 overall. It has been a good year.

If this is the end, they finished with a great game.

email: bgleason@buffnews.com

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