ALLEGANY - If Saturday’s game at the Reilly Center is a sign of things to come the next three months, Big 4 fans are in for a fun college basketball season.
St. Bonaventure and the University at Buffalo treated a crowd of 5,012 to 40 fierce minutes of action, and the 90-84 victory by the Bonnies left both sides with reason for optimism.
Bona showed its high-powered offense probably is not just a one- or two-man gang. Star point guard Jaylen Adams played his typical sensational game with 29 points. But four other Bonnies hit double-figures. And Bona hit 90 points even though it’s No. 2 scoring option, guard Matt Mobley, had an off night.
Bona ranked No.1 in the Atlantic 10 Conference in scoring last year at 79.3 ppg. If this is who they are in January and February, the Bonnies a are contender again in the A-10.
UB, however, refused to fold before a fanatical crowd celebrating the 40th anniversary of Bona’s 1977 National Invitational Tournament championship team.
The Bulls were within 86-84 with 24 seconds left, despite the fact they were missing their second best offensive player, guard C.J. Massinburg, and senior leader Blake Hamilton played a poor first half.
“It was a great college game, it was a great environment,” said Bona coach Mark Schmidt. “The '77 team coming back brought a lot of attention, a lot of excitement. This place has great tradition. For those guys all to come back, the managers and the sports information director, just shows how important Bonaventure basketball is. Our job was to give them a good show and make them proud. I thought we did that.”
Bona improved to 5-2 and has a shot to be 10-2 heading into conference play.
Adams hit 9 of 15 shots, and his eight assists were as critical, too. When UB overplayed Adams, he found open men, and they delivered.
Junior guard Idris Taqqee had 16 points and seven rebounds. Senior forward Denzel Gregg had 14 points, five rebounds and three blocks. Senior forward David Andoh and freshman forward Josh Ayeni had 12 and 10 points, respectively.
“They’re going to look at our team and try to take away our guards,” Schmidt said of Bona opponents. “Those role guys have to step up. We have a lot of confidence they can step up and they did. Idris played terrific especially offensively. Denzel has been doing this all year. Josh hit those elbow jump shots. When they try to take something away, I think we have something we can go to.”
UB (4-4) got 24 points from sophomore forward Nick Perkins, 20 from Hamilton, 13 from senior wing Willie Conner and 12 from senior center Raheem Johnson.
Massinburg has yet to play due to mononucleosis, but UB is hopeful he can return at some point in the next two weeks.
Without him, freshman Davonta Jordan and sophomore junior college transfer Dontay Caruthers have been sharing the point. Both are promising. Jordan penetrates the lane a bit like departed guard Lamonte Bearden. Caruthers plays stellar defense. Jordan had seven assists but five turnovers. Caruthers had five assists and three turnovers.
UB made 20 turnovers for the game, three more than its inflated season average. The Bulls made 23 fouls to just 12 for Bona.
“It’s the same stuff game after game,” said UB coach Nate Oats. “We turn the ball over too much, we foul too much. We keep talking about it, it doesn’t get fixed. Our guys are playing hard. We’re competing. To be down at the half and fight back and get it to a one possession game in the last minute, we’ve got guys who have some fight. We have to clean up the turnovers.”
On his young point guards, Oats said: “Neither one of them were supposed to have to play as many minutes and as big a role as they do right now with C.J. being out with the mono. Hopefully when C.J. gets back they’ll all have a lot more experience and be better off for it.”
Bona sent the crowd into a frenzy midway through the second half when Adams hit Gregg for two alley-oop dunks in a three-possession span. Andoh hit a three-pointer in between. Those plays put the Bonnies up, 67-57.
Bona still was up, 78-67, when Perkins stormed down the baseline, took a drop pass from Jordan and thundered home a dunk with 3:22 left.
“The dunk gave us some faith in trying to come back and win the game,” Perkins said.
In the last two minutes, Perkins hit two three-pointers and Jordan and Hamilton each hit one, the latter pulling UB within two with 24 seconds left. But Taqqee made four free throws in the final 25 seconds to seal it.
Bona visits Hofstra Tuesday. UB visits Pittsburgh Wednesday.