ROCHESTER – When asked about St. Bonaventure’s experience, Niagara University coach Joe Mihalich said the Bonnies, “have a few more miles on those tires than we do.” Indeed, Senior Night came a few months early for St. Bonaventure and it was the player with the most wear and tear who came up with the game saver.
Michael Davenport’s late steal lifted Bona to a thrilling 80-75 victory Saturday before 4,758 at the Blue Cross Arena against its Big 4 rivals. St. Bonaventure (3-1) finally put away the irksome Purple Eagles (2-3) when Davenport came from behind and slapped away a shot attempt by T.J. Cline with six seconds left and the Bonnies leading, 77-75.
A fifth-year senior who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, Davenport came off the bench and scored eight points, including a pair of threes, in 15 minutes but it was his steal that ended the Bonnies’ Rochester losing streak at six games.
“I thought Mike came in and played with the most confidence he’s played with all year,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “He hit a couple of shots and that’s what we need.”
It was St. Bonaventure’s seniors who played big at the right moments. Chris Johnson had 19 points as he stuck jumpers into the teeth of the Niagara defense, while Demitrius Conger contributed 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in 39 minutes. Niagara couldn’t handle Marquise Simmons inside (12 points, 12 rebounds) or St. Bonaventure’s bench, which produced 31 points.
“We had great guys who led by example last year with a lot of the seniors,” Johnson said. “Like coach said, we’re only as good as our seniors so we try to bring it every day in practice - sometimes we don’t do that - but we’re working on it.”
After a slow start to the season and an adjustment to a new role, Davenport looked much like the player was a double-figure scorer two years ago. But after suffering a left shoulder injury last December and as the Bonnies made their run to the NCAA Tournament last year, others stepped up so Davenport had to find minutes as a reserve.
“Obviously no one wants to get injured and sit out, especially being a competitor and playing in as many games as I played,” said Davenport, who played in his 103rd game for St. Bonaventure on Saturday. “It was kind of heartbreaking but it was a real good learning experience for me so I just took what I was observing and I was looking forward to being in the moment.”
So far this season, Davenport has had a lot of time to observe, playing a total of 29 minutes in the Bonnies first three games and had more turnovers (four) than points (two). None of that mattered against Niagara.
Off an inbounds play with 7.5 seconds left and Niagara trailing by two, the Purple Eagles got the ball to point guard Juan’ya Green. His first look was to Marvin Jordan, who cut across the middle off a staggered screen, but Davenport read it and snuffed it out immediately. Green noticed the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Cline on the 6-5 Davenport and fed him the ball but Davenport alertly smacked it away.
“One of the things Niagara is good at is slipping screens,” Davenport said. “So I was in the right place at the right time when he tried to slip and I got my hands on the ball.”
Said Mihalich: “I thought [Cline] made a good strong move. Bang, bang play.”
Mihalich had more to say to the referee - perhaps a bit too much - and was issued a technical foul. Conger, who was fouled by Jordan following Davenport’s steal, made 3 of 4 free throws to end the game.
Mihalich figures Niagara will be good once they defend - the Bonnies were 7 of 14 from three-point range - and rebound (St. Bonaventure grabbed 18 offensive boards).
“Until we get better in those two areas it’s going to be tough,” Mihalich said.
St. Bonaventure couldn’t get rid of Niagara until the end. The Purple Eagles tied the game for the seventh and last time at 75-all with 58 seconds left.
“I get upset and it’s tough to swallow but I have to remind myself how young we are,” Mihalich said. “Those four freshmen and sophomores we played all last year are now four sophomores and juniors. We’re still kind of young. ... These guys wouldn’t give in.”
Niagara was led by Antoine Mason with 19, Ameen Tanksley with 16 while Green and Cline each added 11.