OLEAN — As St. Bonaventure’s non-conference schedule drew to a close, the Bonnies realized they would face significant tests in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
The first examination came Wednesday against Richmond, who dismissed a 13-point halftime deficit and rallied to tie the game early in the second half. But the Bonnies have proven to be a resilient bunch this season, primarily with defense, which was stepped up a few notches late in the second half during their 84-70 win over the Spiders at the Reilly Center.
Richmond tucked away the muddle of the first half and opened the second on a blistering 18-4 run that rocked St. Bonaventure.
The Spiders took the lead briefly at 45-43 on a layup by Trey Davis, but Charlon Kloof immediately knotted the game on a layup.
The game ebbed and flowed when Matthew Wright ignited a 13-1 run with the Bonnies trailing 57-55 that stepped on the irritating Spiders for good.
Wright, who carried the Bonnies’ offense in the first 20 minutes, led St. Bonaventure with 20 points while Youssou Ndoye took control of the paint late to finish with a personal high 19 points and 11 rebounds. Ndoye also made 11 of 17 free throws which was also a career high. He had six points during the decisive run.
Andell Cumberbatch finished with 12 points and six rebounds while Jordan Gathers came off the bench for 11 points and six assists while filling in for Kloof most of the game because of foul trouble.
It proved to be enough to offset the hot shooting of Cedrick Lindsay who scored a game-high 27 points for the Spiders (10-6, 0-1) but was mostly silent in the final eight minutes.
“In hindsight you look back and we showed some toughness,” said St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt who is now 99-99 in seven seasons with Bona. “We took a punch. We didn’t fall down, we fought back.”
In winning their conference opener, the Bonnies improved to 11-4 overall and have won four straight and seven of their last 10. Bona was picked to finish last in the 13-team A-10 preseason poll. Richmond was selected sixth.
The Bonnies are now 7-0 at the Reilly Center, which had 2,992 for Wednesday’s game, the first time a St. Bonaventure team has started with seven straight home wins since 2001-02.
“The game for 40 minutes is not going to go as perfect as you want,” Schmidt said. “There’s going to be peaks and valleys and it’s how you handle those valleys that’s going to determine how successful you are in that game. That was a big valley and we handled it well and came out of it. We answered them.”
While the season is young, a slot in the basement doesn’t appear to be the Bonnies destiny.
“This is the Atlantic 10, all games are won by two or three possessions, the intensity level goes up,” Wright said. “We’ve been in these positions before and we have confidence in ourselves and we can get through it.”
The Bonnies trailed 14-13 when they began a 17-3 run generated by Wright, who scored 16 first-half points. The senior guard from Toronto scored 10 points during the spurt including a three-pointer sandwiched between a pair of jumpers.
Wright nailed a trey as the halftime buzzer sounded and the Bonnies had a 40-27 advantage.
“If I’m open I’m going to shoot the ball,” Wright said. “We scouted them pretty well and the shots that I hit we worked on it. Especially in the corner because we knew they were going to help a lot. ... The scouting that we did that the coaches put in, the countless hours of film, we just went out and executed.”
The next test is at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at No. 17 Massachusetts (13-1, 1-0).