There were only five ticks left in another of what seems like a litany St. Bonaventure-Niagara thrillers. With the game knotted, overtime was a good bet, except the Bonnies are in possession of a blowtorch named Charlon Kloof who can cover the length of the floor in a hiccup.
With no time outs remaining, Kloof inbounded the ball and passed it to Youssou Ndoye, who handed it back to Kloof. With barely enough time to think, Kloof darted coast-to-coast in the lane, curled up as if he were sneaking through a window and converted a twisting layup as the buzzer sounded to give St. Bonaventure a pulsating 74-72 triumph over Niagara (3-9).
Most of the 1,856 in the Gallagher Center were stunned apart from the Bonnies bench and the small student section nearby who swathed the smiling Kloof in celebration. Only at St. Bonaventure do the students storm the court on the road.
“The biggest moment was when my teammates came up to me,” Kloof said. “That was special.”
Indeed, winning the 153rd meeting of this rivalry was storm worthy. Especially against a feisty Niagara team whose leading scorer, Antoine Mason, was beginning to percolate by lowering his shoulder and driving hard to the rack. Especially when Bona leading scorer Matthew Wright struggled woefully from the field (2 of 13, seven points). Especially after the Bonnies shot 22 free throws and connected on just 10.
“We persevered,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “We found a way. It’s a credit to our guys.”
Schmidt’s biggest fear was Mason marching to the line and that’s exactly what happened (11 of 16). But Kloof’s heroics were set up by a defensive stop on Mason by Jordan Gathers.
Mason was handed the ball with 30.5 seconds remaining and 25 seconds on the shot clock. Niagara wanted to milk the clock, give the ball to the national scoring leader. Everyone else, move out the way.
Mason dribbled out most of the clock near the three-point area but his shot was altered as Gathers blanketed him. The extra bonus for St. Bonaventure (8-4) was a shot clock violation which proved to be useful for Kloof’s passage to the basket for the winner.
“That last possession is my fault,” said Mason, who scored 18 of his game-high 24 points in the second half. “I played with it too much and I had him on one move and then I stepped back again and had to shoot it. It’s a lesson learned and I guarantee you next time I’m going to keep scoring it and make it.”
Gathers was surprised Mason didn’t penetrate further into the paint.
“He got to the lane at will and we really couldn’t control his penetration at times,” said Gathers, who scored 14 points. “It was the last possession and we had to buckle down. I had my guys behind me so we came together on that last possession.”
The shot clock violation was huge because it enabled the Bonnies to set up their full-court sprint, a play they work on in practice.
“Especially in games like this and conference games where it’s always going to come down to the last two or three minutes,” Schmidt said. “You try and have a play for each situation. Anytime it’s four seconds or above, that’s one of our plays that we do.”
Niagara coach Chris Casey said the Bonnies set a long screen which was set to free Kloof, who finished with a team-high 18 points, and Niagara retreated in support.
“It looked like we got split off the dribble and we needed to close the driving lane,” Casey said. “It’s difficult on these guys because of the way the game is called and contact fouls. With five seconds to go, he’s going to go with a full head of steam. The last thing you want to do is foul.”
“We didn’t want to foul so we played a little softer which we shouldn’t have done,” said Niagara’s Marvin Jordan, who finished with 20 points. We should have played it tough the whole way.”
Once Kloof got the ball, he went in untouched as if he were a flame. At the high rate of speed he was traveling, maybe he was too hot to touch. Kloof had similar opportunities a year ago – the Xavier loss in particular – but missed the layup because he feared contact.
Not this time.
“This year I focused on the basket,” said Kloof, “and that was my only mission.”