OLEAN — After losing four consecutive games by sizable margins — losses which forced St. Bonaventure to do some soul searching — the Bonnies were quite annoying and rude to their first-time guests from Virginia Commonwealth.
The Bonnies’ ball movement found soft spots in VCU’s “Havoc” defense — they finished with a season-high 11 three-pointers — bothered their hottest shooter in Troy Daniels and took care of the ball against a Rams’ defense that lives and breathes off turnovers, all the aspects that generally add up to winning.
Yet the Bonnies suffered their fifth consecutive defeat, 72-65, in front of 4,675 at the Reilly Center on Saturday, in large part due to VCU shooting nearly 60 percent in the second half. Still, the Bonnies managed to pick out rays of sunshine from a seemingly otherwise cloudy stretch of basketball.
Each of St. Bonaventure’s losses to North Carolina State, Iona, Colorado State and George Washington were by 19 points or more, but most alarming was the sense that when the Bonnies got pushed, they withered away. That wasn’t the case against the Rams, who were playing their first Atlantic 10 Conference road game.
VCU (14-3, 2-0) led by 13 points with 3:46 left in the game before Bona (7-8, 0-2) made it a two possession game with 34 seconds left at 71-65. It was a common theme for the game: Whenever the Rams threatened to break the game open, the Bonnies came up with an answer to thwart the charge. That kind of energy was missing of late.
“Even though we lost, we feel like we finally found our heart and we got it back,” said junior guard Matthew Wright, who had 10 points. “We have to know that this is the bare minimum that we have to play, you just have to play hard no matter what.”
St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt agrees.
“You can’t get disappointed when teams make runs at you,” he said. “You have to buckle down and at times we may have given in a little bit, but I can tell you one thing, we didn’t give in against VCU.”
This looked like a mismatch prior to tipoff. While St. Bonaventure appeared to regress after a 7-3 start, VCU was on a 10-game win streak which included a 19-point blowout of Alabama. But the Bonnies were able to get baskets on the back end of VCU’s fullcourt pressure defense while hitting 11 of 25 from long range.
“Going into the game we knew we had to give the best effort of the season,” Wright said. “This is the kind of team that will jump on you early, and they make you quit with their style of defense. So you really have to match their intensity, and, in our case, we have to exceed their intensity.”
They did, except defensively which has been an issue during the five-game losing streak as opponents have shot over 50 percent. The Rams shot 59.1 percent after halftime led by Treveon Graham, who had a team-high 17 points.
Daniels was 35 of 70 from three-point range in his last five games and the Bonnies knew they couldn’t afford to give him many open looks. He scored 10 points on 3 of 8 overall and 2 of 7 from long range. VCU, which should break into the Associated Press Top 25 this week, was 5 of 17 from three-point range.
“We played a hard-fought game against Dayton on Wednesday and I felt against St. Bonaventure this was even tougher,” said VCU coach Shaka Smart.
Demitrius Conger, who scored a game-high 19 points, hit a three-pointer with 34 seconds left to bring the Bonnies within six at 71-65. That basket also marked Conger’s 1,000th career point, the 39th player in school history to reach 1,000.
After Conger’s trey, the Bonnies were still breathing when they forced a turnover by Briante Weber. Charlon Kloof, who had a tough game with six turnovers, could have cut the lead to three with 26 seconds left but misfired from long range. With 22 seconds left, Juvonte Reddic put the game out of reach with a free throw.
“Against VCU you can’t step back, you can’t blink, you have to attack,” Schmidt said. “I think our guys did that for the most part.”
They’ll have to do it again on Wednesday against Xavier, whom the Bonnies defeated in the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship game last March to reach the NCAAs. Tipoff is 8 p.m. at the Reilly Center.