OLEAN – St. Bonaventure played its best half of defense of the season and rolled to a surprisingly comfortable, 84-68 victory over Richmond on Sunday afternoon.
The Bonnies had given up 95, 85 and 84 in losing their previous three games. They allowed Richmond to shoot 50 percent from the field in the first half and went to intermission trailing, 39-32.
It didn’t look good, considering Richmond ranks third in the Atlantic 10 Conference in scoring and leads the conference in shooting, averaging 51.2 percent from the field.
But the Bonnies used an active zone defense to hold the Spiders to just 27.3 percent shooting in the second half and outscore them, 51-29, the final 20 minutes.
“The second half, that’s the best basketball we can play from a defensive standpoint,” said Bona coach Mark Schmidt. “When we play that way defensively, we can compete with anybody in this league. The last three games that we’ve lost, we haven’t done it on the defensive end, but the second half we did a tremendous job.”
Records: Bona improved to 13-6 overall and 5-3 in the A-10, tied for fourth place with George Washington. Bona was picked for ninth in the preseason poll. Richmond, picked for sixth, dropped to 11-9 and 3-5. The Spiders are ninth in the 14-team league.
What it means: Bona remains in position to greatly exceed expectations. The Bonnies’ three recent losses were to first-place Virginia Commonwealth, second-place Dayton and sixth-place Duquesne. With five weeks to go in the regular season, Bona fans still can dream of a top-four finish.
“Coming off a three-game losing streak this was a big game,” Schmidt said. “I told the team it’s not a do-or-die game. But if we want to compete for one of the top four spots in the conference, you’ve got to win your home games.”
Spiders stopped: Bona played mostly zone in the second half and held Richmond stars Terry Allen and ShawnDre’ Jones to a combined 25 points. Jones, a 5-foot-11 guard, was averaging 20.6 in conference. Allen, a 6-8, 240-pound forward, was averaging 20 ppg.
Bona was burned in the first half by backup guard Khwan Fore, who scored 13 points. But Schmidt stuck to the defensive script: Don’t let the big guns beat us.
“I thought our guys did a good job in the second half of understanding what we were trying to do,” Schmidt said. “You need to stop the knowns in this league.”
Dion defends: Bona senior Dion Wright, a 6-7, 220-pounder, burned a lot of calories defending Allen, whether it was man to man or as an undersized middle-of-the-zone defender. Wright was in perpetual motion, buzzing in front of Allen to deny the ball then back around when the ball was reversed.
“I knew Allen is really physical,” Wright said. “I just tried to match their intensity and just front the post as much as possible, take some of his touches away.”
Allen finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. Wright had 19 points and 14 rebounds.
“I thought Dion Wright had a great game,” said Richmond coach Chris Mooney. “In the second half I felt we were a little bit more stagnant when they went zone. We weren’t able to get the ball inside enough, maybe looking for a few too many things rather than just playing.”
High scorers: Bona got 26 points from senior guard Marcus Posley, 18 from sophomore guard Jaylen Adams and 10 from junior forward Denzel Gregg. T.J. Cline led Richmond with 18.
Big help: Jordan Tyson, Bona’s 6-10 redshirt freshman center, had five blocks, five points and five rebounds in 20 minutes.
“Dion may think he’s Hulk Hogan but he isn’t,” cracked Schmidt. Jordan’s 250 pounds. He brings that physicality we need. His numbers aren’t great, but just being there and being able to body-up guys helps.”
O-board: Bona forward Idrees Taqqee had a solid defensive game and had the biggest offensive rebound of the game, tipping the ball to Posley, who sank a three-pointer to put Bona ahead, 65-53, with 5:20 left.
In the house: It was a near-sellout crowd of 5,263 at the Reilly Center.
Up next: Bona visits Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday in Philadelphia. The Hawks are 18-3 overall, 7-1 in the A-10.