OLEAN – St. Bonaventure unveiled its defending Atlantic 10 Tournament championship team for the first time and the 4,215 inside the Reilly Center were curious what was behind the curtain.
What was revealed was a team adjusting to its new fastbreak offense coupled with the customary opening night jitters. The Bonnies (1-0) clamped down on defense and connected on timely three-pointers in the game’s final 10 minutes to close out Bethune-Cookman, 65-55, on Friday night.
“It’s great to win, but at the same time it’s good to have things to work on,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “If you’re playing your best at the beginning of the year you’ll be in trouble.”
St. Bonaventure isn’t in danger of peaking too early as it adjusts to life sans Andrew Nicholson, who was the Bonnies’ safety valve, and a new-look offense. The Bonnies were tentative offensively in the early going (36.4 percent shooting in the first half) and let fly too quickly with several seconds remaining on the shot clock.
But after the Wildcats drained 5 of 11 from three-point range, the Bonnies located their shooters (1 for 10 in the second half). The Bonnies were 2 of 11 from long range as they struggled to find open looks in the Wildcats’ 2-3 zone but were 4 of 8 in the final 20 minutes led by Eric Mosley’s 3-of-6 overall shooting from long range.
“I just merely made open shots, the shots were there,” said Mosley, who finished with a team-high 14 points off the bench. “We were pretty stagnant in the first half, but we have pretty decent shooters on our team and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t make open shots.”
Bethune-Cookman wanted to make the game unpleasant. The Wildcats (0-1) held the ball until the final ticks of the shot clock before running a play which limited the Bonnies’ fastbreak chances (13 points) while throwing them off rhythm. Schmidt thought the Wildcats were a pressing, trapping team but, by design, they instead dictated the game’s pace for fear of getting blown away.
“There were bigger and more athletic than us and we wanted to maintain a tempo so we ran some motion, played a lot of zone and tried to make them beat us from the outside,’’ Bethune-Cookman coach Gravelle Craig said. “We had the pace pretty good for most of the night. ... We couldn’t run up and down with those guys.’’
The result was St. Bonaventure playing defense for as long as 30 seconds and a game devoid of extended runs.
“You can’t be stagnant on a zone, there has to be player ball movement,” said Matthew Wright, who added 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting. “The problem was, we were too unselfish and if I was going to have a problem on the team I wouldn’t mind that problem.
“There were a lot of times in the game we could have drove it in, we chose to run a play on the zone.”
Before tip-off, the Bonnies officially said goodbye to the splendid 2011-12 season. After raising banners honoring their A-10 Tournament title as well as their first NCAA appearance since 2000, someone turned up the Beastie Boys “No Sleep to Brooklyn” – the Barclays Center plays host to this season’s A-10 Tournament. The proper song would be the Isley Brothers’ “Work To Do.”
“We have the blueprint of what we want to do from last year and we’re just going to get better,” Wright said.