OLEAN — Maybe it’s time to step back and appreciate once more what St. Bonaventure accomplished last year. Perhaps it’s in the best interests of the Bona faithful to savor yet again that dramatic run to the Atlantic 10 Tournament title and the NCAAs. Yes, take it all in another time because this season has been a harsh reminder of the degree of difficulty the Bonnies overcame to conjure last year’s magic.
Bona played a pretty solid game in dropping a 66-64 decision to Xavier on Wednesday night before 3,892 in the Reilly Center. It shot better than 50 percent from the field. It produced assists on 16 of 23 baskets. It only turned it over eight times and held a three-point lead with just under three minutes to play.
And then Semaj Christon, Xavier’s precocious freshman guard, took over the game. Christon scored six of his game-high 19 points in the final 2:38 and struck for the winning basket with 5.1 seconds left and just like that Bona’s losing streak hit six games, the program’s longest since Mark Schmidt’s first year at the helm.
“We played hard, we just didn’t finish,” Schmidt said. “Give Xavier credit. They made the plays when they needed to make them. But I thought it could have gone either way. Disappointing in losing.”
Bona’s improvement of late can be measured in the decreasing margin of defeat. The Bonnies had lost four straight games by 19 points or more before dropping a 72-65 decision to No. 24 VCU over the weekend. They were on the verge of knocking off another conference unbeaten in Xavier before Christon, the reigning A-10 Rookie of the Week, took over as a scorer after already handing out 10 assists.
“He’s really good,” Schmidt said. “Right now he’s the Freshman of the Year. He’s a very good, talented player and we had a hard time keeping him in front, to his credit. He played extremely well.”
The Musketeers (10-6, 3-0) wanted the ball in the hands of their guards at the end. Either it would be Christon off the drive or Brad Redford (17 points) from beyond the arc.
“What we wanted was to put pressure on the rim,” said Xavier coach Chris Mack. “If Bonaventure really sucked into the lane, which sometimes happens in critical situations like that, then Brad would be an option. But Semaj was having a lot of success driving their big kid down the stretch ... so we just wanted to put him in a flat screen situation, let him get to the rim.”
Bona (7-9, 0-3) called a timeout following Christon’s go-ahead basket. Charlon Kloof then drove the floor and wasn’t challenged until the lane, where Landen Amos knocked away Bona’s hope of extending the game.
Christon struck the decisive blow but the Bonnies also were hurt by the outside shooting of Redford, who went 5 of 11 from behind the arc. Xavier also held a 33-23 advantage on the boards, with 16 of those coming on the offensive end.
“They hurt us on the backboards,” Schmidt said. “ ... That was a big factor. They shoot 57 shots to our 44 and we shoot a high percentage. If you look at the game, that’s where we lost the game in terms of the rebounding.”
While the season has spiraled downward with three or four seniors in the starting lineup, 7-foot sophomore Youssou Ndoye continues to lay the foundation for future success. He scored a career-high 16 points in 29 minutes, going 7 of 8 from the field.
“He played really well,” Schmidt said. “He’s young. He’s still learning. It’s still a process.”
“I’m just taking what the defenses give me,” Ndoye said. “They play me one-and-one I’m just going to take my time and make the right play.”
Erci Mosley added 13 points for the Bonnies while Chris Johnson and Demitrius Conger chipped in with 11 apiece.