OLEAN – St. Bonaventure proved Saturday afternoon it can win a big game without its offensive three-ring circus leading the way.
The Bonnies played their best defensive game of the year in defeating George Washington, 64-57.
It was a tough matchup for the undersized Bonnies, because George Washington is one of the biggest teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference. But Bona forced the Colonials into their third-worst shooting game of the season and their second-worst turnover performance.
“Our guys couldn’t have played harder,” said Bona coach Mark Schmidt. “The effort was incredible, the way we defended. ... Everybody talks about how good our offense is, but I’ve said it from Day One: You win in this league by playing defense, being tough, physically and mentally.”
GW shot 35.6 percent from the field and made 16 turnovers. The Colonials scored just 19 points in the first half (Bona had 24), the fewest points allowed by the Bonnies in a half this season.
“It’s not always how big you are, it’s how big you play,” Schmidt said. “It’s toughness. It’s being scrappy. We talked before the game about having a junkyard-dog mentality, being a blue-collar team. That’s what we were.”
What it means: Bona now leads GW by two games in the critical race for one of the top four seeds in the A-10 tournament. Bona stands 17-6 and 9-3, two games up on the fifth-place Colonials (18-7, 7-5). Bona entered the game ranked 37th in the country in the Ratings Percentage Index. George Washington was 50th. It was Bona’s third win over a top-100 ranked team (along with St. Joe’s and Davidson).
Interior D: Bona got strong play inside from 6-foot-7 senior Dion Wright and 6-10 freshman Jordan Tyson against the Colonials’ two big men, 6-9 Tyler Cavanaugh and 6-10 Kevin Larsen.
Cavanaugh equaled his season scoring average with 17 points, but he made just 3 of 13 shots and had six turnovers. Larsen, a 260-pounder, had seven points, 5.5 under his A-10 average. He was guarded a lot by the 235-pound Tyson.
“Both those guys did a great job physically,” Schmidt said. “Jordan is a young kid. Larsson is a man. But Jordan physically matched up with him. He blocked some shots. He defended the block. We didn’t have to double-down as much.”
“They did a great job of taking one of our strengths – our inside game – completely away from us,” said GW coach Mike Lonergan. “Our bigs started settling for jump shots. We couldn’t score inside. We were getting stripped. We were losing the ball. We were missing layups and forcing shots.”
Bona was active in denying the ball inside, which helped prevent fouls. GW averages 25 free-throw attempts a game. It finished 10 of 15 from the line.
“Even though Bona isn’t very big inside, they were pushing us around and being tough with us,” Lonergan said. “The game wasn’t called closely, and that’s not to our advantage. We backed away from that challenge, and we settled and started having our post players play on the perimeter for whatever reason.”
Adams shines: Sophomore point guard Jaylen Adams led the Bonnies with 19 points and made 7 of 10 shots from the field. He played only 26 minutes due to foul trouble. Bona got 12 from Wright, and 11 apiece from guard Marcus Posley and forward Denzel Gregg.
Adams scored 11 points in a span of 5:12 during a run that gave Bona a 57-42 lead with 4:39 left. Adams hit a driving layup, had a steal and a fast-break layup, got a transition layup off a long rebound, hit a three-pointer from the high wing and then scored on a baseline drive, double-pump, reverse layup.
“The whole game I think they were switching the 5-man onto me,” Adams said, referring to the GW center. “Early in the game I didn’t think I did a good job of taking advantage of the switch. But when I got in there in the second half, I made it a priority to take advantage of that switch.”
Late start: Schmidt kept Wright out of the game the first 5:20 because the senior was late for a meeting this week.
In the house: It was a sellout crowd of about 5,480 at the Reilly Center. It was the second sellout of the Mark Schmidt era, along with Andrew Nicholson’s Senior Night in 2012. Nicholson was in the crowd, as were fellow alums from the 2012 NCAA Tournament team, Youssou Ndoye and DaQuan Cook.
Up next: Bona visits LaSalle in Philadelphia on Wednesday then travels to Dayton on Saturday.