OLEAN — You knew it was going to be a special night for St. Bonaventure shortly after tip-off.
Matthew Wright missed a three-pointer, Ndoye Youssou nearly scraped his head on the Reilly Center ceiling for a follow-up dunk as if he was fired from a cannon. A few seconds later, Youssou’s steal off Billy Baron led to another gravity-cheating slam by Wright and the game’s tone was clearly established.
Canisius likes to play uptempo and while St. Bonaventure wants to be recognized for its dirty work on the defense end, the Bonnies were in attack mode offensively. The Bonnies, off to their first 3-0 start in 13 years, pounded their Big 4 rival on Saturday in an 86-64 romp in front of 4,568.
Perhaps the Bonnies student section storming the court was over-the-top, but so what? Three consecutive wins to start the season is a big deal, especially with one coming against an annual rival. Especially against a team coached by a man who left so many warm memories as a player and coach. Especially against a team whose best player is the coach’s son who spent his formative years shooting jump shots in the Reilly Center.
It was certainly memorable enough with Wright pouring in a game-high 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting, while Charlon Kloof had 13 points and Ndoye finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. And here’s another shocker: The Bonnies scored 86 points while attempting just four three-pointers with the lone long-ball coming from junior college transfer Andell Cumberbatch the first time he touched the ball.
“Today was a lot of fun and I’m sure you guys enjoyed the game,” Wright said. “It was just up and down action non-stop, we didn’t let up in the second half. … We threw the first punch in the first half and it was a collective effort.”
Indeed, the biggest surprise was St. Bonaventure’s approach to transition basketball, which generally plays into the hands of Canisius.
“We did a good job of coming out of the gates quickly, something that we want to do,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “We struggled at times in our first two games but I thought our guys were ready to play. We had a great crowd that really helps us.”
And they were relentless on Billy Baron, who shook off chants of “Daddy’s Boy” to score 23 points on 8-of-19 shooting. But the problem with Canisius right now is Baron is doing most of the heavy lifting.
“Coming in we knew he was the guy we needed to stop, he’s a known,” Ndoye said. “We tried to do a good job guarding him. We fouled him a lot and we were just trying to keep him out of the paint.
Chris Perez had 13 points while no one else had more than six for the Griffs (1-1). Canisius coach Jim Baron, a 1977 graduate of St. Bonaventure who coached the Bonnies to an NCAA Tournament berth in 2000, figured it would be a struggle to find offense aside from his son early on.
“There’s no question we need other guys to step up,” Jim Baron said.
Billy Baron got a glimpse into his future. He is a talented long-range shooter but his strength may be taking the ball hard to the basket off ball screens, and the Bonnies clogged the lane to thwart the senior guard, who scored only eight points in the second half.
“Even though I got to the lane it was tough to get there,” Billy Baron said. “I had to really pick and choose my spots. I didn’t shoot a lot of threes and I tried to make an effort of attacking.”
Perez converted a pretty left-handed layup and Canisius trailed, 44-40, before St. Bonaventure blind-sided the Griffs with a 26-7 spurt. It started with a basket by Kloof then Jordan Heath was called for a technical foul with 16:48 left. Wright hit two free throws before a Marquis Simmons put-back. Kloof added a layup and Ndoye a basket on a goaltending call and the Bonnies were up, 54-40. St. Bonaventure wasn’t finished. The lead later grew to as many as 28 points.
St. Bonaventure inducted four members to its athletics hall of fame including guard J.R. Bremer (2002), who is one of the school leaders in points (1,732), three-pointers (223), steals (185), assists (334) and free-throw percentage (75.2). Other inductees include Tricia Hildebrand-Fisher (softball), Mikko Haulos (tennis) and Vili Nurmi (tennis), all the Class of 2003.