By Paul Gotham
BROOKLYN, N.Y. – It wasn’t the first option. Not all of it was needed. But it definitely was the difference.
Jordan Gathers drilled a three at the buzzer as the Saint Bonaventure Bonnies upset the top-seeded Saint Louis Billikens, 71-68 to reach the semi-finals of the Atlantic 10 championship.
Coming out of a timeout with 20.9 left on the clock, Gathers used an off-the-ball screen to get space at the top of the key for a catch-and-shoot trey from Charlon Kloof.
“We wanted Charlon to have the ball in his hands, to come off and create and find whatever he needed to find off the high ball screen,” Gathers said of the game-winning play. “I circled up, and I was open for the three-point shot…When I let it go, I knew it was going in.”
The shot was the first from behind the arc for the junior guard who finished with five points on the afternoon.
“Probably one of the biggest shots in Bonaventure history,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt said.
“It’s every player’s dream,” Gathers said of the game winner. “I knew Charlon would make the right decision.”
The Bonnies, who trailed by as many as 13 in the first half, outscored Saint Louis 43-30 after the break. Bona outscored the Bills 11-4 to open the second half.
Gathers scored his only other basket to open the stanza. He followed with a steal and lead to Matthew Wright for a three in transition. Marquise Simmons took a Wright feed and scored in the lane. Kloof got to the basket off a drive, and Wright went high off the glass to make it a one-possession game at 42-39.
“I don’t think I can over-emphasize by saying it was a great ballgame,” Schmidt said. “Give Saint Louis credit. It was just a great ballgame back and forth.”
Bona took its first lead of the game at 54-52 when Wright connected on one of his five treys on the day. The senior guard scored 17 of his 22 points after the break hitting all five of his 3-pointers coming out of the locker room.
“I’m not going to lie, I was a little numb in the second half,” Wright said. I kept telling the team to relax, the game isn’t done yet, so a lot of basketball left. Charlon did a great job of finding me in transition, especially in transition; and just to see the ball go to the rim as a shooter, it gives you a lot of confidence.”
Kloof scored in traffic to tie the game, and Wright pushed Bona to a lead with a three from the right corner.
Evans answered for Saint Louis setting up the final play.
Wright and Kloof shared game-high honors with 22 points. Kloof added nine rebounds and seven assists. Earlier this season Kloof went the length of the floor for a game-winner at buzzer to defeat Niagara.
McCall led the way as the Billikens took a double-digit lead into the locker room.
Leading by three, the senior used a ball screen to hit a pull-up jumper from the free throw line. He followed with 3-pointer and finished a two-on-one with Dwayne Evans.
By the time McCall drilled his third three of the half, an inside-out look from Evans, the Billikens led 32-19.
Dion Wright scored twice in the lane to cut the deficit for SBU to ten at half, 38-28.
Kloof scored nine straight as the Bonnies made it a one-possession game late in the half. The senior guard took an outlet pass and went the length of the floor for a layup. He converted a pair of free throws, hit a pull-up three in transition and scored in traffic to make it a 20-17 game.
“When things weren’t working in the first half, he had, I don’t know, 14 points to keep us afloat, basically single‑handedly put his team on his shoulders the first half,” Wright said of Kloof. “Everyone is going to remember Jordan’s shot but people are not going to remember Charlon’s pass on that one and the decision making and his defense on Jett who is the Player of the Year, so you have to give a lot of credit; Charlon should be up here, too, with us.”
Eight different Billikens scored in the first half. The Billikens hit 16 of 28 (57.1 percent) from the floor in the first half. St. Bonaventure adjusted at half and showed a variety of defensive looks. The Bonnies switched between man, 2-3 and 1-3-1 picking up Billiken ballhandlers just over half court. The Bonnies created 10 second-half turnovers and 14 overall.
“We felt going into the game, you try to change defense, keep them off balance a little bit,” Schmidt explained. “They are not a great three‑point shooting team stat‑wise, so we thought our zones could be effective against them. But you never know going into‑‑ until the game starts and then you see and make adjustments.”
McCall led the Bills with 21. The senior guard hit 8 of 13 from the floor. Jett handed out a game-high eight assists, but the conference player of the year committed eight turnovers. Evans added 15 points and team-high eight rebounds.
St. Louis outrebounded St. Bonaventure, 35-26.
Both teams scored 34 points in the paint and six points on fast break.
The Bonnies tallied 23 points off turnovers to SLU’s 14.
Saint Bonaventure advances to the A-10 semi-finals for the second time in three years. In 2012, the Bonnies went on to win the tournament and advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000.
The Bonnies will play the winner of the Dayton – St. Joseph’s contest.