NEW YORK — For a heartbeat, Matthew Wright was open from long distance and that’s usually enough time to uncork his jump shot. It was a missed defensive assignment for sure and it was time for the St. Bonaventure guard to make Saint Joseph’s pay.
Suddenly 6-foot-6 DeAndre Bembry came running at Wright, waving his arms with the intensity of a man trying to flag down taxi. Instead of shooting, Wright let the ball fall from his hands and onto the floor and was called for traveling.
There weren’t many clean looks for Wright and the Bonnies on Saturday in their semifinal matchup against the Hawks. There weren’t any transition baskets that energized the Bonnies the last two days, either. Instead they received a vile sample of their own medicine – suffocating defense – and when you mixed in legs that suddenly turned to noodles after back-to-back upsets, a pulsating postseason run finally came to a close.
St. Bonaventure’s dauntless jaunt through the Atlantic 10 Tournament ended in the Barclays Center as Saint Joseph’s won convincingly, 67-48. The No. 9 seeded Bonnies (18-15) scored a mild upset over LaSalle on Thursday, a major one on Friday against No. 1 seed Saint Louis on a buzzer beater by Jordan Gathers but simply ran out of gas against a Hawks team (23-9) that perhaps solidified its bid to the NCAA Tournament with the victory.
Asked to put the season into perspective – a year in which expectations were as low as any in recent memory – the loss was still too fresh for Wright.
“At this moment it’s hard to reminisce,” he said. “The loss stings right now but maybe in a few days when the dust settles I’ll be able to look back at the season and see how far we came to being picked last in the division. We’re not even supposed to be here, we’re supposed to be doing individual workouts. We’re still not done, we still have games left.”
St. Bonaventure has had dialogue with officials from the College Basketball Invitational and the CollegeInsider.com tournaments for at least two weeks and Bonnies officials have hope about receiving a bid to the National Invitation Tournament.
The Bonnies appeared to have a puncher’s chance against Saint Joseph’s after halftime with the game knotted at 29 but connected on only 4-of-24 shots in the final 20 minutes and 1 of 8 from long distance. Defensively, the Bonnies didn’t have a clue on how to hush forward Halil Kanacevic, who had his way to the tune of 26 points, 17 rebounds, four assists and two steals.
The Hawks, who led by as many as 21 points in the second half, will play in the tournament title game at 1 p.m. today.
“We struggled offensively throughout the game and some of it had to do with Saint Joseph’s defense and some of it had to do with us running out of a little bit of steam,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “One of the strengths of our team was being able to score and when we lost it was more because of defensive breakdowns.”
For the Hawks, the key was containing Wright. A deadly shooter when he finds his rhythm, Wright rarely displays emotion unless it’s after a momentum-building three-pointer as the Billikens learned Friday when he staggered the top seed for 22 points. But Bembry shadowed Wright like a groupie at a rock concert and held Wright to just 1 of 9 from the field and 0 for 2 from three-point range for six points.
“They scouted us very well,” Wright said. “They usually run a lot of set plays for me and Bembry was yelling out the plays as we were yelling out the plays. They were ready and they were prepared so give them credit. He’s a taller, longer defender so it’s not easy to raise up above him and shoot.”
One minute Hawks coach Phil Martelli wanted to send Bembry back to Philly because of his five turnovers but ended up praising the freshman after locking down Wright.
“Bembry was unbelievable,” Martelli said. “At the offensive end of the floor DeAndre was a freshman in a big-game setting but on the defensive end of the floor he was a 10-year vet. … He maxed out his effort. He’s exhausted and he should be because that’s a real good player he guarded.”
It wasn’t easy for Bona in general. Once Gathers yelled for the ball in the left corner and missed the open three which was rebounded by Dion Wright, who immediately short-armed a layup attempt, Gathers made a three-pointer barely a minute into the second half. However, the Bonnies didn’t score another field goal until nearly nine minutes later on a Gathers jumper as he was fouled by Bembry. The free throw cut the Hawks lead to 46-36 with 10:43 remaining but Bona failed to get closer than eight the rest of the way.
“Baskets we usually make were rolling off the rim,” Wright said. “It was frustrating physically and mentally.”
Still, as they await a postseason berth, it’s been quite a season the Bonnies. After losing the bulk of their scoring and rebounding in the form of Demetrius Conger, Eric Mosely, Chris Johnson and Michael Davenport – they were picked to finished 12th in the preseason.
Instead, Bona registered 18 wins, knocked off two ranked opponents in the same season for the first time since 1997-98 and lasted to the semifinals of the A-10 Tournament. It’s a credit to the coaching ability of Schmidt who took a group of players who were largely afterthoughts on the recruiting trail and turned them into winners.
“We have a bunch of guys who got the most out of their ability,” Schmidt said. “If someone said we were going to win 18 games this year I would have looked at them a little bit sideways. … It’s speaks volumes about our guys and how far they’ve come.”
Charlon Kloof was the lone Bona player in double figures with 10 points.