Defense was an apparent afterthought for most of St. Bonaventure’s game Wednesday night against Duquesne, at least until the final minutes when the Bonnies needed stops the most. St. Bonaventure held the Dukes without a field goal in the final 2:34, which enabled the Bonnies to sneak out of the Reilly Center with a 71-67 victory over Duquesne.
The Dukes (11-14, 3-10 Atlantic 10) shot 57.1 percent from the field in the second half, erasing a 14-point deficit and taking a 67-64 lead after a conventional three-point play by Jeremiah Jones with 2:34 left in the game.
Then Matthew Wright, who scored a game-high 22 points, answered with a conventional three-point play and fed Youssou Ndoye for a layup and what proved to be the winner with 33 seconds left in the contest. Duquense’s Derrick Colter missed a pair of free throws and Wright added two more for a four-point lead with 12.5 seconds remaining.
On the Dukes’ final possession, long-armed Dion Wright stretched and rejected a three-point attempt by Colter and after Colter tracked down the rebound he passed to Micah Mason who was forced to shoot a long, off-balance three-pointer while being trapped near halfcourt as time expired.
“We found a way to win,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “We made the plays we had to at the end. … We got the stop at the end and we finished. We didn’t play our best but we found a way and in this league that’s what you have to do. When you don’t have your A game you have to find a way and we gutted it out.”
The night got better for Schmidt who let out a loud, “Woo Hoo,” after learning Boston College, his alma mater, handed Syracuse its first loss of the season.
St. Bonaventure deserves a few shout-outs after winning its third straight and possibly playing its best basketball at the right time of the year with four games left in the regular season. The Bonnies moved up to 16-10 overall and .500 in the Atlantic 10 at 6-6.
St. Bonaventure plays host to Rhode Island at 4 p.m. on Saturday at the Reilly Center and will retire Andrew Nicholson’s No. 44 prior to tip-off. The Rams fell to 11-16 overall and 2-10 in league play after losing at to Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday.
“We definitely need to get the ball rolling here and it’s a big momentum boost for us,” said junior guard Jordan Gathers, who scored 18 points off the bench on 6 of 8 shooting overall and 4 of 6 from long distance.
In pushing to a 36-25 lead, the Bonnies appeared determined to delete the image of their last meeting with Duquesne on Jan. 25 when the Dukes won, 83-81, on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Colter. But the momentum quickly shifted at the start of the second half when the Dukes connected on their first six possessions.
“They were scoring, but we were scoring as well, back-and-forth,” Schmidt said. “We went into a span from the beginning of the second half until five or six minutes where we didn’t get any stops and we can’t do that.”
For a team whose last three losses have come down to the final minute of play, a little luck is warranted.