Turn back the clock to last March, before the real madness began, when St. Bonaventure was down point guard Jaylen Adams and turned to Marcus Posley to operate the offense. The only problem with the change was Posley also happened to be the first option on the wing.
If you remember, Posley gave everything he had and, with Dion Wright, gave Dayton all they could handle before falling in the second round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Posley had 26 points in that game. Wright missed one shot all evening while putting on a fantastic three-point shooting display and finished the game with 24.
And that’s when it became clear that St. Bonaventure would be in good hands when the two juniors returned for their senior year. They had assumed their leadership roles and embraced the final stage of their careers. Both knew they would be in charge this year while Bona searched for new ways to compete in the A-10.
St. Bonaventure is a different team without 7-foot Youssou Ndoye patrolling the middle. He had given them the option to jam the ball inside and protected the rim on the opposite end during his career. The Bonnies now are about using their experienced guards to complement their small but athletic forwards.
It starts with Posley and Wright.
“You rely on your veteran guys,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt said. “I’ve said it many times, you’re only as good as your seniors. When your seniors play well, you have a chance. When they don’t you’re probably going to lose. The two seniors, Marcus and Dion, learned a lot in the last year.”
If there was any doubt about their leadership qualities after slow starts in the first two games, they vanished Tuesday night in a 77-73 victory over Canisius before a full house in the Koessler Center. It marked the first time since 2003 that the road team won in their long and heated rivalry.
Posley was fabulous in the first half before he and Wright took over in the final 20 minutes against a tough, competitive team in Canisius. Posley finished with 35 points while beating the Griffs in every way possible. He drove the lane and scored inside. He made four three-pointers and all nine free throws.
“He torched us,” Canisius guard Malcolm McMillan said. “He got off to a good start in the first half, and there was no looking back.”
Posley had 18 points in the first half. He started the second half by scoring 14 of their first 18 points. And when he wasn’t scoring, he was looking for Wright. Together, they made all but one field goal for St. Bonaventure in the second half. Wright finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
It was almost as if they had picked up where they left off in Brooklyn.
Posley actually had a slow start this year. He missed 21 of 26 shots and scored only 13 points in his first two games combined. Now you can see him regaining his feet and ridding the rust. He scored at will early in the second half. He drove the lane for three buckets, hit a three and banged another from the corner.
He has scored 61 points and made 19 straight free throws in his last two games. The Bonnies can proceed knowing he can carry them, as he has in the past, while they wait for Adams to rediscover his game. The sophomore, who had a poor night shooting, needs to play better if the Bonnies are going to compete in the A-10.
“We have to lead the pack,” Posley said. “We have to play off each other and feed off each other. The guys play off of us. We lead by example. The game was just coming to us tonight. Lucky for me, I had the hot hand tonight.”
Schmidt’s best option inside is 6-foot-9 forward Derrick Woods, a true freshman who has the strength and athleticism to handle himself inside and a soft left-handed shot around the basket. The key will be figuring out exactly what he and freshman guard Nelson Kaputo can bring to the Bonnies and working to their strengths.
In another generation, Canisius and Bona would have been played for blood and guts in Memorial Auditorium. The rivalry has stood the test of time, but it no longer carries the intensity it once did. Both teams wanted to win Tuesday, but their coaches used the contest to experiment with players and get ready for conference play. At one point in the first half, Schmidt had three freshmen on the floor.
Jim Baron has been pushing for an up-tempo style that’s fun for players and exciting for fans. It was enough to lure McMillan after he graduated from Central Connecticut with a year of eligibility. McMillan had another good game Tuesday with 22 points and five assists. He makes Canisius considerably better. Canisius’ problem was it had nobody to stop Posley.
“The kid Posley, he was the difference,” Baron said. “He was the difference. … The guy stepped up and was the difference. Every time they needed a shot, he took it.”
The Griffs approach should keep them competitive in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, which generally attracts smaller and faster players who enjoy getting up and down the floor. Canisius has another non-conference game Saturday at UB before playing its first two conference games.
St. Bonaventure was coming from a slightly different place Tuesday under Schmidt, who is trying to figure out his own team. Posley can score from the wing and run the point when needed, as he did last season the Atlantic 10 tournament. Wright isn’t a natural center, but he’s a capable inside the defender and can score.
The Bonnies will likely run more than they had in recent years, but Schmidt wasn’t going to abandon his philosophy Tuesday for the sole sake of beating Canisius. The Bonnies need to play a controlled, disciplined style at the right pace if they want to compete in the tougher and more talented A-10.
And when the game is on the line, as it was Tuesday, he knows he can always turn toward the two guys who have been there for him in the past.
“We won because of those two guys,” Schmidt said. “When it comes down to winning and losing, you need to rely on your veteran guys.”