OLEAN – With 37 seconds left in the game, Dayton had taken a 13-point lead and looked to cruise to its 11th straight Atlantic 10 win.
But St. Bonaventure wasn’t ready to roll over.
They created turnovers, hit free throws, got offensive rebounds, sunk three-pointers and went to the rim.
It wasn’t quite enough for the Bonnies as No. 14 Dayton escaped with a 67-63 win in front of 503 at the Reilly Center on Thursday night. But for the first time this season, the Bonnies played a complete 40-minute game throughout the lineup, generating genuine hope in Olean.
“That looked like a Bonaventure basketball team,” coach Jim Crowley said. “Whether it was effort or making the extra pass or spacing or covering up for each other on defense ... I thought it was the first time in a while we played the game hard. We didn’t worry about the scoreboard. We just played the game hard.”
Thursday was a rematch of last year’s Atlantic 10 title game, which Dayton won, 56-53, in Philadelphia. While the Flyers have a 23-1 record, are 11-0 in the A-10 and have a national ranking of 14, the Bonnies have struggled to find consistency, falling to 9-17 overall. At just 2-9 in the conference, they are in danger of not even qualifying for the A-10 tournament.
On paper, this had the makings of a blowout. The Bonnies, however, had other ideas.
“I’m saying that they probably thought they’d blow us out by 30 points,” junior forward Doris Ortega said. “We didn’t get the win but I’m proud of my team. When we were down 10 or 12 we could have rolled over and this season we have in certain games. But tonight we didn’t and that’s great to see.”
“You can feel the difference when play hard for a full 40 minutes rather than just half a game,” said Alaina Walker, who had a game-high 17 points.
The difference, Crowley said, has come in practice. There are players who are leading and others who are following. The results were demonstrated in the game, when the Bonnies held the best shooting team in the conference to 32.8 percent (22 of 67) from the floor.
“That doesn’t happen by accident. That happens by preparation,” Crowley said.
On the flip side, the Bonnies, who had a poor-shooting first half, came out in the second hitting 53. 8 percent (14 of 26) and knocking down 5-of-10 from three-point range.
And that left Dayton coach Jim Jabir dissatisfied with his team’s performance.
“St. Bonaventure deserved to win,” Jabir said. “I’m not pleased with our team in any way.”
The Flyers controlled the glass in the game, grabbing 20 offensive rebounds and scoring 24 second-chance points. Ally Malott had a double-double for the Flyers (12 points, 11 rebounds) while Andrea Hoover had 13 points.
Four Bonnies scored in double figures. Walker’s 17 came on a 6-for-10 night from the field while hitting 5-of-7 from the free throw line. Doris Ortega scored 12 with seven rebounds. Emily Michael added 12, all on three-pointers, while Katie Healy had 11 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots.
While there were plenty of positives for the Bonnies to take out of the game, Crowley will assess the real value as the rest of the season winds down.
“I’m sure I’ll get the moral victory question,” Crowley said in his post-game opening statement. “I don’t know the right way to phrase it. It becomes a victory of some kind if we understand that when we play that hard, this is what can happen.”
The Bonnies are at George Washington on Sunday.