BROOKLYN — La Salle was making a run at St. Bonaventure when the Bonnies allowed Jerrell Wright to grab an offensive rebound. As Wright attempted a putback, he was fouled by Youssou Ndoye and the Bonnies’ junior center reacted by slamming the ball hard on the court and drawing a technical foul.
For the usually easygoing Ndoye, it was the wrong time to lose his poise. The Bonnies led by nine points two minutes earlier in large part because Ndoye was enjoying one of his best offensive outputs of the season, but picking up his third and fourth fouls forced him to the bench with St. Bonaventure clinging to a five-point lead.
The stars are rarely aligned for the Bonnies to win games like these. Not this season. But with their top big man on the bench in foul trouble, No. 9 seeded St. Bonaventure found the resolve to defeat No. 8 La Salle, 82-72, on Thursday at the Barclays Center and advance to the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
Next up for St. Bonaventure (17-14) is top-seeded Saint Louis (15-16) at noon today in the quarterfinals.
La Salle’s Wright finished with a game-high 26 points but scored just one field goal in the final 13 minutes as a swarming St. Bonaventure defense double- and triple-teamed the Explorers forward. The Bonnies completely shut down second-leading scorer Tyrone Garland, who was held scoreless and went 0 for 7 from the floor.
With Ndoye on the bench, Marquise Simmons (15 points, seven rebounds) and Dion Wright (nine points) picked up the slack for a Bonnies team that staggered into the tournament on a four-game losing streak.
“We’ve lost a lot of games in the Atlantic 10 at the buzzer, by two or three baskets, and we’ve had a hard time finishing,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “We couldn’t make that play, that stop.”
That changed on Thursday. La Salle (15-16) trailed by three points with 3:05 left when Bona’s Charlon Kloof (14 points, six assists) added a pair of free throws and beautifully pilfered a pass intended for Garland and finished the play with a two-handed dunk that put the Bonnies up, 76-69, with 1:58 left. The Explorers, who split two games with St. Bonaventure this season, were essentially finished.
But an entirely different scenario uncomfortably played through the minds of the St. Bonaventure players when Ndoye drew his fourth foul with 13:15 left. Ndoye, who finished with a team-high 19 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks, was dominant offensively at the time, but the Explorers were making a run. And Ndoye displayed his frustration.
“We were giving them a lot of easy baskets and we were really helping them out,” Ndoye said. “I really wanted to get my team back in the game. It was my fault because I didn’t realize I had two fouls already.”
Tyreek Duren missed the technical shots, but Wright connected on both of his free throws. La Salle got the ball back and after a Duren layup the Bonnies’ lead was cut to 53-50. A turnover by Matthew Wright led to another Duren layup and the lead was down to 53-52.
Schmidt called timeout – not to yell at his team but to motivate.
“When he went out, you could see in the kids’ eyes, ‘Oh God, here we go. Here we go again,’ ” Schmidt said. “I just reassured them we have the talent on the team to be able to cover Youssou. He made a mistake and good teammates pick him up and I thought that’s what our guys did.”
Then Kloof massaged the ego of his big man.
“When you come back to the game,” Kloof told Ndoye, “we need the same effort.”
Ndoye re-entered the game with 3:41 left, tossed in a jump hook from 10 feet out with 1:03 left, rebounded a D.J. Peterson missed three-pointer, then rejected Duren’s layup on La Salle’s final field-goal attempt of the game.
“I needed to make it up to the team for letting them down in the middle of the game,” Ndoye said. “I need to get smarter and know that that will hurt my team. It’s not about me.”