OLEAN — These Big 4 rivalry games have been one-sided in favor of St. Bonaventure for quite sometime now and that tenor continued Tuesday night.
By scoring baskets in transition, the Bonnies women’s basketball team shook off a slow start against Niagara with 23 points in the final eight minutes of the first half to build a 19-point lead by halftime. The Purple Eagles couldn’t make up much ground in the second half, and the Bonnies cruised to a 73-57 victory in front of 265 at the Reilly Center.
The Bonnies (4-1) had a much easier team with the Purple Eagles than last season when they won at Niagara, 51-49, but most of these Big 4 matchups have a distinct brown and white hue.
It was the 19th consecutive win against Big 4 opposition for the Bonnies, the longest streak in the Big 4 era. Their last loss against a local opponent was seven years ago Tuesday against the University at Buffalo.
“It’s something we take a lot of pride in,” St. Bonaventure coach Jim Crowley said. “We really feel if we’re going to be recognized we have to do so first locally. We understand how important these games are with Niagara, Canisius and Buffalo and I think our kids do a great job preparing for that. While it’s not a conference game for us it’s on the same level.”
Katie Healy (Lancaster) tied her career best with 21 points while adding personal highs in rebounds with 14 and assists with five. Nyla Ruetter scored a career-high 18 points and finished with five steals, while Hannah Little came off the bench to score 10 points with nine rebounds and three steals.
“It’s kind of motivation to win the area so we try and step up our game when we play these teams,” Ruetter said. “Obviously, we’ve succeeded.”
But Crowley wasn’t particularly pleased with the Bonnies’ defensive effort in the second half when they were outscored, 37-34. But the closet Niagara got was 13 points just under four minutes into the period.
“I didn’t like how we played,” he said. “I thought we had bad pace with our offense and got lax defensively in the second half. I thought Niagara did a good job of pressuring in the second half and going after our legs a little bit.”
Meanwhile, Niagara’s early season troubles can be attributed to turnovers. The Purple Eagles (0-3) suffered 23 against St. Bonaventure and now have 64 through three games. Niagara coach Kendra Faustin was not available for comment following the game.
Val McQuade led the Purple Eagles with 13 points while Taylor McKay and Sylvia Maxwell added 10 each, but Meghan McGuinness and Victoria Rampado, the team’s leading scorers, both struggled. McGuinness, who averaged 16 points, scored just six while Rampado was 2-for-9 from the floor for seven points, five under her average.
Still, turnovers proved to be Niagara’s downfall in the first 20 minutes and St. Bonaventure capitalized although neither team looked sharp in the first six minutes. Five of the Purple Eagles first six possessions resulted in turnovers and they didn’t register their first field goal until a Gabby Baldasare jumper nearly six minutes into the contest. The Bonnies scored on their opening possession but didn’t tally again until Healy converted a three-point play at the 14:14 mark.
Niagara trailed, 14-10, when Healy ventured on a solo run by scoring nine of the Bonnies’ next 11 points, starting with a putback on an Imani Outlaw three-point try. Healy added seven more points to give St. Bonaventure a 27-12 lead.
The Purple Eagles closed within 10 at 27-17 after a three-pointer by McQuade, but the Bonnies ended the first half on a 12-2 run and a 39-20 lead.
“I think we had a little more energy in the first half,” Healy said. “We didn’t have as much energy as we wanted but at the end we closed pretty well.”
The Bonnies are in the middle of six games in 10 days and play next on Friday against Monmouth in the opener of the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge in Storrs, Conn. The Purple Eagles host Binghamton at 2 p.m. on Saturday at the Gallagher Center.