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St. Bonaventure staves off late Niagara run to sweep Big 4

Photo from St. Bonaventure's website

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

No lead has been safe for St. Bonaventure this year. Up 13 at the half against Arkansas State? Loss. Leading by six in the second half against NC State? Loss. Nine point advantage against Illinois with five minutes to go? Loss.

Tonight against Niagara, St. Bonaventure’s lead was trimmed from a commanding 17 points early in the second half to a mere two with 20 seconds left, and Niagara’s star freshman guard Juan’ya Green had piled up 17 points in the last nine minutes of regulation. No Bona defender could contend with his relentless dribble-drives and acrobatic finishes at the rim. There was plenty of reason for the large contingent of Bonnies’ supporters to hold their heads, exclaiming, “Oh no! Not again!”

Fortunately for St. Bonaventure, reserve Chris Johnson calmly knocked down two free throws, and the Purple Eagles clanged three three-pointers in the final 10 seconds before putting in a meaningless deuce at the buzzer. The Bonnies prevailed 72-70 before a capacity crowd of 2,200 at the Gallagher Center. The win marks a sweep of the Big 4, as St. Bonaventure knocked off Canisius and UB earlier in the season.

In what’s become a common thread this season, star forward Andrew Nicholson struggled. He mustered only 15 minutes on the floor due to foul trouble in both halves. Nicholson was disqualified with 4:26 left, ironically after his best play of the night. After sealing his defender away from the baseline, Nicholson took a perfect entry pass from Matthew Wright and finished strong at the rim, drawing a foul against Ameen Tanksley in the process. The Bona big shockingly kicked Tanksley while the Purple Eagle was still on the ground, drawing a technical and earning Nicholson his fifth personal foul.

The play was out-of-character for the senior NBA prospect, who’d clearly become frustrating with the tight officiating (55 total fouls on the night) and the packed-in Niagara zone defense. 

St. Bonaventure’s underrated forward Demitrius Conger, who ended the evening with 27 points and 11 rebounds, made sure that the Bonnies didn’t completely unravel after losing their top player, scoring eight of the Bonnies’ final 12 points to preserve the win. A rebounding force due to his combination of strength and athleticism, the junior tore down seven offensive boards and embarrassed the under-sized Niagara frontcourt for much of the night.

Bench players Eric Mosley (10 points) and Johnson (11 points) both reached double figures for St. Bonaventure to compensate for Charlon Kloof’s horrendous outing (seven turnovers) and Matthew Wright’s misfires from the outside (1-6 on threes).

On a night when Niagara’s promising guards Marvin Jordan and Antoine Mason struggled mightily—they combined for 3-15 shooting and four turnovers—Green and fellow freshman Ameen Tanksley, a package deal as recruits out of Philadelphia, were the Purple Eagles’ best players.

A little too aggressive in a first half where he contributed three turnovers and one field goal, Green was dominant in the second frame. He’s a much better defender than your typical leading scorer, and his defense ignited his offense after the halftime break—he picked Charlon Kloof’s pocket on the first possession before storming down the floor for a lay-up. In the final nine minutes, Green’s excellent body control in the lane and tremendous knowledge of how to use the backboard gave Bonaventure fits. Of the Big 4 teams, Green is one of the few players—Canisius’ Gaby Belardo may be the other—who can get his shot off at will.

Although Tanksley’s 12 points and seven rebounds suggest only a mediocre game, he was a menace at both ends of the floor, hustling, clogging passing lanes and rebounding with authority. The future certainly remains bright for Niagara—provided they can recruit some semblance of a big man for a balance lineup, but Bonaventure withstood the Purple Eagles’ late rally to earn “Little 3” bragging rights.

TAGGED: ameen tanksley, andrew nicholson, big 4 basketball, chris johnson, college basketball, demitrius conger, juan'ya green, niagara purple eagles, st. bonaventure bonnies

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