OLEAN – A year after capturing the Atlantic 10 title, St. Bonaventure hit the stretch run of this season unassured of even qualifying for the conference tournament. The Bonnies needed to score a significant victory to get back into serious postseason contention. They needed to knock off someone the standings suggested they shouldn’t.
That signature victory came Wednesday night at the Reilly Center, when Eric Mosley put forth one of the great backcourt performances in Bona history in a 99-94 victory over Massachusetts. Had the game gone another 30 seconds it might have hyperventilated.
Pick any of the great scorers in the annals of Bona basketball. Bob Lanier. J.R. Bremer. Tom Stith. Greg Sanders. Mosley was right up there in their company on this night, scoring a career-high 39 points in an electrifying performance that captivated the crowd of 3,468. He was 12 of 18 from the field, 5 of 8 from long range and a perfect 10 from the line. And the Bonnies (12-13, 5-7) needed every bit of it to persevere in a second half during which the points fell as if from a cloudburst and they were actually outscored a frenetic 63-61.
Mosley’s 39 are the most points by a Bonnie in a regulation game since Sanders dumped 46 on Detroit in 1976. No Bonnie ever has scored more against an A-10 opponent. And yet, for all his magic, it was Mosley’s lone assist that put Bona ahead to stay. That came on a bounce pass that set up Youssou Ndoye for an inside basket good for a 91-90 advantage with 1:27 remaining.
Bona’s new scoring sensation – Mosley had a career-high 30 at Richmond Saturday – had plenty of help. Fellow senior Chris Johnson went for 22 points and was perfect on four free throws in the final 13 seconds, capping a shooting clinic that saw Bona go 27 of 28 from the line in the second half and 32 of 33 for the game. Another senior, Demitrius Conger, struck for a double-double of 16 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
Mosley has spent most of this season sharing time at the point with Charlon Kloof. Mosley is the shooter, Kloof the defender. Situations dictated which one saw more time on a given night, although their minutes were fairly balanced. But Mosley’s time has increased dramatically of late. He played 38 minutes at Richmond and 31 Wednesday night.
“Eric’s defending better and that’s keeping him on the floor longer and giving him more opportunities offensively,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt said. “I’m no dummy. When someone’s shooting the ball the way Eric’s shooting the ball I can give in a little bit. He’s played well in the last three or four games and hopefully that continues.”
“I can’t really explain it,” Mosley said. “When my teammates look for me I just try to make plays.”
UMass groped for answers, finding none. He hit catch-and-shoot threes and step-back threes off the dribble. He also took his 5-foot-9 frame into the domain of the big men, contorting for layups or applying extra arc to get his shot up and over.
“He’s a pretty good player,” said UMass point guard Chaz Williams, the A-10’s assist leader and fifth-best scorer (he had 26). “They set a lot of screens for him and he was open. He made a lot of open shots. That’s what you do when you’re a Division I college player. You make shots. You make open shots.”
The loss probably ended any chance UMass (16-9, 6-6) has of securing an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. That fact explains the urgency that accompanied the second-half performance of the Minutemen. They fired off 46 field goals to Bona’s 28 and came from 12 down late in the first half to gain the second-half lead. They were up, 87-85, when officials went to replay review and assessed a flagrant foul against Terrell Vinson for clearing out Mosley with an elbow. It was the disqualifying foul for Vinson (20 points) and led to the tying free throws by Mosley and the Ndoye hoop that put Bona on top for good.
“I thought that was a momentum-changer,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg. “They make 32 out of 33 free throws I think is a telltale sign of where the game kind of went.”