Following three subpar games at the Reilly Center, St. Bonaventure took a step forward with its most impressive performance of the season, a 74-59 victory over Niagara at Buffalo’s First Niagara Center on Saturday.
The Bonnies need more efforts like this one going forward, as the schedule stiffens with the next three games against Buffalo, Ohio and Pittsburgh. They will be underdogs to Ohio and Pitt and possibly UB on Wednesday night at the RC.
The Bonnies dominated Niagara most of the afternoon, though they weren’t particularly sharp over the game’s first 12-15 minutes. SBU led by 10 points at the half and extended the advantage after halftime.
The caveat is that Niagara is a bad team. A very bad team. The victory is encouraging. But it was also expected.
Pitt is coming up on the schedule. For the sake of comparison, the Purple Eagles lost at Pitt 78-45 on Nov. 14.
So there’s still plenty of progress to be made.
The best news for the Bonnies Saturday afternoon was the breakout of Youssou Ndoye, who had been virtually invisible on the offensive end in his first four games of the season. The senior big man poured in 23 points to go with 11 rebounds and five blocked shots.
Oh, but there’s another caveat: the Purple Eagles didn’t provide a lot of resistance to Ndoye inside.
In the Anthony Solomon head-scratcher of the game, Niagara coach Chris Casey used a man defense against the Bonnies and matched 6-foot-5 Ramone Snowden against Ndoye most of the game. The Purple Eagles were doomed from the start.
Nevertheless, Ndoye and was aggressive in attacking the basket and the guards were narrowly focused on getting him the ball in the post. Hopefully, that is a sign of things to come for the Bonnies.
What we didn’t like: The SBU guards are still way too careless with the basketball. The Bonnies turned it over 15 times against Niagara.
The most glaring giveaway came as the Bonnies, leading 35-25, were setting up for the final shot of the first half. Mark Schmidt called a timeout with 30 seconds left to set up a final play. The Bonnies looked out of sorts out of the timeout and Andell Cumberbatch turned it over with six seconds left. Niagara countered with a 3-pointer, but the bucket was waved after video review deemed that it came after the buzzer.
The Bonnies got lucky on that one. Against better teams, an error like that will come back to bite them.
Ivan Kovacevic Unsung Player of the Game: We haven’t mentioned Xavier Smith’s name a lot this season. Pressed into minutes because of Denzel Gregg’s suspension, the sophomore has done a pretty good job. Against Niagara, Smith played seven minutes during the first half while Dion Wright sat with foul trouble and contributed two points and four rebounds. While Smith was in the game, the Bonnies were able to extend their lead.
Clearing the bench: When the game was no longer in doubt, Schmidt put freshman Jordan Tyson into the game. The move ended any speculation that the Bonnies might opt to redshirt Tyson, who is isn’t ready nor needed to contribute this year. For Bonnies fans, all you can do is trust Schmidt that playing Tyson is best for the program and the player.
Short leash: Schmidt’s impatience with backup point guard Iakeem Alston was obvious during one first half possession. Alston, the junior college transfer, made an ill-advised decision while directing the offense shortly after entering the game. Schmidt threw his arms up in disgust and grabbed Jay Adams off the bench and directed him to check back in. A similar scenario played out in the second half – only this time Schmidt left Alston in after throwing up his arms in disgust.
Starter Jay Adams, a freshman, is bound to have some rough nights. The Bonnies are going to need Alston is those instances. We can only hope player and coach get on the same page as the games become more challenging. Alston, it should be noted, did not play at all during the Jackson State game.