By Ryan Lazo
ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — Fresh off of two historic wins in the city of Brotherly Love, St. Bonaventure returned to the Reilly Center looking to continue the high-level play they had reached.
However, in front a Homecoming crowd filled with both current students and alumni, the Bonnies ran into a Saint Louis team with a defense that is extremely similar to a brick wall. The Billikens scored the game’s first seven points and Bona never recovered in a 67-57 defeat in front of 4,839 fans.
St. Bonaventure (9-10, 2-4) feasted on fast starts during their victories over Temple and Saint Joseph’s, but they could not match the intensity of the top ranked defense in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
“Our defense dictated the tempo of the game for us,” Saint Louis (14-5, 3-2) interim coach Jim Crews said. “We were able to create some offense because of our defense, especially early.”
Crews was being modest.
The Billikens’ defense did not just help them establish their own tempo, but completely disrupted any kind of rhythm the Bonnies had. On numerous occasions, Bona would seem flustered, frustrated and sometimes downright confused on how to attack Saint Louis.
With the shot clock ticking away and the Billikens’ defense growing more confident by the minute, Bona would be forced into bad shot after bad shot en route to a dismal 36 percent shooting effort.
“In this league, if you are going to successful, you need to play your ‘A’ game and your main guys need to play well and we didn’t do that today,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt said following his team’s fourth straight home loss. “We couldn’t score and that seemed to affect our defense.”
Good teams never get too high, nor get too low. That’s how they remain consistent much like the Xaviers and Butlers of the league. However, it seemed it was a classic letdown game after a week with two emotional victories.
The Bonnies never once led in a game that they were simply dominated in from start to finish. Saint Louis dominated the paint to a 38 to 24 margin, scored 27 points off of Bona’s 19 turnovers and recorded 13 second-chance points.
“You’re not going to win in this league when you turn the ball over too many times and then allow them to score off of them,” Schmidt said.
While Schmidt is right about Bona turning the ball over too much, his squad still had a chance to cut into the lead numerous times, but just could not finish.
Perhaps, the best chance Bona had to storm back in the game came when Charlon Kloof absolutely took the game over. After a basket by Saint Louis’ Grandy Glaze put Bona down by 11, Kloof took the game into his own hands.
While St. Bonaventure shot nearly 50 percent over the past two games, primarily relying on 3-pointers, the shots would not fall this afternoon. Instead, Kloof utilized his agility and European style to create off the dribble and finish at the rim.
Then, after another defensive stop, Kloof took it to the net again, driving past three Saint Louis defenders before he was fouled. The Bona captain made both free throws before hitting a mid-range jumper to pull the Bonnies within seven, 51-44.
“We started off really slow, especially considering the last two games, and I always say that I do whatever my team needs and we needed a spark,” Kloof said after his 11-point effort on 4-for-8 shooting. “I tried.”
And Kloof could have continued to be the catalyst, but he was taken out of the game in favor of Eric Mosley right after sinking his jumper. While Mosley has been an integral part of the team’s recent success, his insertion was the turning point of the game.
Mosley promptly shot and missed a 3-pointer, Bona shot just 12 percent from three on the game, then committed two consecutive fouls leading to four Saint Louis points. In fact, Bona would not score another field goal for over a three minute span.
“You have teams in this league that are trying to win the national title, not just the A-10 Tournament,” Schmidt said. “We can’t have lapses. We have to play really well in order to beat the teams in this league.”
And Bona suffered way too many lapses to have a chance.
While Demitrius Conger had an impressive stat line of 15 points and nine rebounds, his three consecutive turnovers in the last two plus minutes was the knockout punch for Bona.
His follies represented what plagued St. Bonaventure all afternoon — a lack of focus in the most critical of times.
“The execution wasn’t there today,” Kloof said bluntly.
While losing at home after two big road wins was a disappointment, Bona has now survived their toughest stretch of the A-10 season. The team now knows where its ceiling is after defeating two perennial conference powers.
Whether they can continue to consistently execute at the level needed to win will determine their fate this season.
Ryan Lazo can be reached on Twitter @RMLazo13