Charlon Kloof had less than five seconds to cover the final 85 feet to the basket after gaining possession with the fairytale ending waiting for him. St. Bonaventure was tied with Niagara. The Bonnies had one final possession with no timeouts remaining. You know the cliche story, about the kid by himself at the playground, racing the clock.
Five, four, three …
The winning shot always goes through the basket in fantasyland, but it usually misses in the real world. It’s often an off-balance desperation heave that clanks off the rim or misses everything. Kloof had become a tortured soul after facing a similar situation and blowing a last-second layup attempt in a loss last year to Xavier.
Eighty-five feet can feel like a mile for a man with a long memory. Kloof was haunted all summer. He returned to Olean for his senior year promising himself the outcome would be different if he were given another chance. The wisdom that comes with age allowed him to understand why he missed, not that he missed.
He reminded himself to take the ball strong to the basket without anticipating a foul, which cost him last season. If they fouled him, fine. If not, he had to convert a shot he had made thousands of times when nobody was watching. Kloof had all that and more on his mind when he started dribbling frantically up the court.
Five, four, three …
Niagara didn’t just give him an open lane. The Purple Eagles darned near gave Kloof a police escort to the basket before challenging him. His left-handed layup bounced off the glass and trickled through the net as the final horn sounded, giving St. Bonaventure a 74-72 victory over the Purple Eagles.
“Last year, I had that play a couple of times and I missed it,” Kloof said. “I remember telling myself in the summer that no matter what happens next year, I’m making it. When the moment presented itself, I knew it was going in.”
It marked the end of a great game, but it was the continuation of a journey for Kloof. Eight-five feet was a hop, skip and a jump to a man who traveled around the world for an opportunity to play Division I basketball. Kloof, 23, was born in Paramaribo, the capital city of Suriname in South America.
Soccer is the national pastime for the city of about 240,000 people. Kloof figured there were only about eight or 10 basketball teams when he was growing up. English was his second language. He grew up speaking Dutch. He was introduced to basketball by an American friend, and he fell in love with the sport.
His family later moved to The Netherlands. He continued his career in the Canary Islands, drew attention during a National Prep tournament in Rhode Island and landed in a small community college in North Carolina. Bona coach Mark Schmidt heard about him and made the 20-hour flight to the Canary Islands and offered him a scholarship.
You think he was worried about 85 feet? The first time Kloof stepped on campus was when he moved into his dormitory as an uncertain freshman. Three-plus years later, he evolved into a mature, unflappable leader who needs the ball in big moments. He kept Bona in a game two weeks ago against UB before the Bulls prevailed.
“I moved from country to country without knowing what it looked like, so going to a place where you dream of, it didn’t matter where I was,” Kloof said. “I just wanted to play D-I.”
Why didn’t Niagara stop the ball or, at the very least, make a better attempt to disrupt his path to the bucket? Good question. The Purple Eagles were worried about fouling him and losing that way. Regardless, it was a great play by a great player who carried the Bonnies through tumultuous stretches all afternoon Saturday.
Kloof finished with a team-high 18 points and played all 40 minutes on an afternoon in which Bona’s other leaders were strangely quiet. Two other seniors, Matthew Wright and Marquise Simmons, combined for 11 points.
Wright hasn’t been right — pardon the pun — since he sprained his ankle against UB two weeks ago. He had a miserable game Saturday, finishing with seven points after going 2 for 13 from the floor. He was scoreless in the second half. Simmons was limited to four points. Kloof made the difference.
“He’s our leader,” Schmidt said. “He’s our captain, and he’s our personality. You know, he made a big play at the end.”
Niagara deserved credit for getting back into the game after trailing by 12 points at one stage. Antoine Mason’s options were limited against Bona’s aggressive zone defense before he broke through with 18 points in the second half. The Purple Eagles climbed back into the game before Kloof hit a three-pointer with eight minutes remaining.
Kloof made two critical foul shots with 3:43 remaining after Niagara took a lead. He set up Andell Cumberbatch for a three with just more than two minutes remaining.
Niagara had the ball with the game tied with the clock winding down — 10, nine, eight — but it was Mason who threw up an off-balance airball with five seconds remaining.
And it was Kloof who had the ball in his hands for one final shot, 85 feet separating him from wiping away the memory of the Xavier game and the clock ticking.
Five, four, three, two, one …
“I just focused on the basket,” he said. “And that was my only mission.”