ALLEGANY – St. Bonaventure pulled off its biggest win of the year Friday and breathed new life into its NCAA Tournament hopes.
The Bonnies upset 16th-ranked Rhode Island, 77-74, snapping the Rams' 16-game winning streak, which was tied for longest in the nation.
The win was a huge resume-booster for the Bonnies, and one they probably had to have if they don't earn an automatic NCAA bid by winning the Atlantic 10 tournament.
Junior forward LaDarien Griffin put the Bonnies ahead for good with 20.5 seconds left when he dunked off a nifty pass from Jay Adams. Then Griffin preserved the win by blocking a shot by Rhode Island star Jared Terrell with 5 seconds left.
The Bona students stormed the court after the buzzer, capping a tense and wild night before a sellout crowd of 5,480 at the Reilly Center.
"I'm not sure if there's a better game since I've been here," said 11th-year Bona coach Mark Schmidt. It was Bona's fifth straight victory over a ranked opponent, dating to 2013.
Bona entered the game ranked 40th in the Ratings Percentage Index, a key metric (among many) used in picking at-large teams. Bona was No. 29 in the RPI two years ago when it was snubbed by the NCAA after losing in the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament. Now Bona will move up. If the Bonnies can win out over the last four regular-season games and get to the A-10 final, they would have a strong at-large argument.
Bona is 20-6 overall, 10-4 in the A-10, and it improved to 6-3 against teams in the top-100 this season. Rhode Island is 21-4 and 13-1 and saw its 22-game A-10 win streak end. A loss might have put Bona in a win-it-all-or-else situation.
"They probably had zero hope to get an at-large if they lost this game," Rhode Island coach Danny Hurley said.
Everybody in the Reilly Center seemed to know the stakes, one reason the game was sold out five days in advance. The student section was filled 45 minutes before tipoff. Much of the crowd never sat down through a game that saw 21 lead changes.
In one corner of the court in the final minutes, Bona student managers were praying with their eyes closed when the Bonnies shot free throws. In another corner, Reilly Center security guards were waving their arms to get the crowd even more fired up (not a common sight at most arenas).
"We knew we were playing an NCAA-caliber team on the road in an unbelievable environment," Hurley said. "We knew we were going to almost kind of go to hell and back to win this game."
"A hundred percent," agreed Bona guard Matt Mobley. "We couldn't go 0-2 against Rhody. We all just wanted this win really bad. We knew what it meant for everybody."
It took a great game from Mobley, who scored 26 points, on a night when Bona star point guard Jaylen Adams was held to 2 of 12 shooting. Adams scored 10 points, 10.5 under his season average. However, he distributed the ball well in the face of constant double-teaming at the top of Bona's half-court offense. Adams had eight assists and two turnovers.
"We wanted to get the ball out of his hands," Hurley said. "We were successful with him but we weren't with Matt. We wanted to funnel the ball to their other players and make them beat us."
Griffin, averaging 8.6 a game, scored 14 points. Junior forward Courtney Stockard had 13.
Rhode Island is the No. 2 defensive team in the A-10, holding foes to 64.8 ppg.
Bona, the A-10's top-scoring team at 79.6 ppg, kept its offense humming by outscoring the Rams in points off turnovers, 18-7.
"One of the keys going into the game was points off turnovers," said Schmidt. "If you turn the ball over, they're going to get numbers and they're really athletic. To be able to outscore them by 11 off turnovers, to me that was the game."
Bona will try to avoid a letdown when it plays host to Duquesne (15-11, 6-7) on Wednesday.
"It was probably the grittiest I've seen these guys all year," Hurley said of Bona. "They knew what it was today. They had that look in their eye. They were playing for their lives to a degree."