“I would imagine the NCAA selection committee or people are watching and understand it was two NCAA tournament teams playing a high level game.” – Dan Hurley
Friday night’s game between St. Bonaventure and Rhode Island lived up to its billing as the premier matchup in the Atlantic 10 this season. For a casual college hoops fan with no rooting interest, it was a fun, entertaining, close matchup throughout. For the diehard fans of URI and SBU, it was a game spent entirely on the edge of their seats, intensely fixated on the screen, and in my case, kicking their wife in and out of the living room depending on how the Bonnies were faring in that particular moment of the seesaw battle. (She’s more on that “casual fan” line!)
The basketball purist in me couldn’t have enjoyed this game more. It was obvious that both teams wanted…no, NEEDED to win this game. I give the Rams all the credit in the world. They’re essentially an NCAA tournament “lock” at this point yet they still came to play. And in a hostile environment, they made the Bonnies earn this win for 40 minutes. In a way, St. Bonaventure may have to thank Rhode Island for teaching them tonight the importance of playing hard for FORTY minutes. All SBU fans would agree with me that the Bonnies have a tendency to relent their offensive attack or defense at times and allow their opponents to make things interesting. But not tonight. Against the best team they’ve faced all season (and believe me, this Rhode Island team is going to be a tough out in March Madness), the Bonnies finally put together a FULL “A” GAME so to speak.
Team Effort – For much of the season, St. Bonaventure’s successes have lied on a particular player or two having a superhuman effort which carried them to the victory. Tonight, I truly thought that every single Bonnie who entered the game made some sort of essential contribution towards securing the victory. They didn’t need a 40+ point performance from their star senior, Jaylen Adams, tonight. EVERYONE had a role in tonight’s win. Nelson Kaputo buried two big three pointers during times of need. And even a guy I’ve been hard on all season, Amadi Ikpeze, stepped up with some key plays tonight.
Matt Mobley – The senior shooting guard’s scoring ability never ceases to amaze me. Matt always seems to make that one play that his team needs in a moment of uncertainty. Tonight was no different. It was evident from the onset that Mobley was going to take over the scoring load for the Bonnies and did so on a game-high 26 points on 8-17 shooting, including 5-11 from beyond-the-arc.
Courtney Stockard – The junior small forward made what I consider the play of the game tonight. With 6:00 to go in the second half and Rhode Island up 6 (which would prove to be the largest lead by either team all game) and with the ball, Stockard made a great read on an errant URI pass for the steal and fast break dunk, leading to a Rhode Island timeout. This four point swing turned the tide for the Bonnies, who at that moment in time seemed to be relenting a bit. This play certainly wasn’t a surprise — Stockard has a knack for stepping up in crucial moments of big games.
LaDarien Griffin – Three blocks…three HUGE blocks…one of which was made after losing one of his kicks nonetheless! Make no mistake, without Griffin’s contributions tonight, which included four big free throws down the stretch, St. Bonaventure wouldn’t have won this game. His ability to provide an interior presence was needed against a team with two very good bigs in Cyril Langevine and Andre Berry, as well as a plethora of guards who can finish at the rim. Also, incredible movement without the ball in finding the open lane for what proved to be the game-winning dunk with 21.5 seconds left.
Jaylen Adams – For those “casual fans” I referenced earlier, Jay’s game tonight may be viewed as a letdown. But I personally thought he played masterfully. For me, I was shocked to see that his shooting percentage was so low tonight. Watching live, it just didn’t seem like he was shooting so badly. Despite his poor shooting (2-12, 0-4 from three), he continued to make play after play all night. Adams made his teammates better, setting them up to succeed and is perhaps the biggest reason why the ENTIRE TEAM contributed tonight. His passing was on full display, no assist bigger than the beautiful finding of LaDarien Griffin for the go-ahead bucket with 21.5 seconds to play. A lot of “stars” would’ve probably forced up a contested shot in that situation but Jay Adams continued to let the game come to him and it paid off…with a big Bonnies victory.
NONE! Maybe it’s just the high of a major resume-saving win, but like I said, every single St. Bonaventure player who logged minutes tonight contributed in a positive fashion.
The Rhode Island Rams are going to be an extremely tough out for any team in the NCAA tournament. I’ve watched quite a few Rams games this year and they just never go away. Modern basketball is a guard-driven sport and URI has a lot of great ones. Jared Terrell is an absolute stud who delivered a bunch of back breaking threes, particularly early on in tonight’s game.
Also, I’m glad that SBU won this game with E.C. Matthews in the lineup. After going scoreless in the first half, Matthews had a little stretch early in the second which scared the crap out of me (and I’d guess most Bonnies fans). He’s the type of player who can take over games in an instant and looked to do so with a four point play.
Let’s just hope that the Bonnies can build on tonight’s victory with four more to close out A-10 play. As URI coach Dan Hurley said, tonight was a battle of TWO NCAA tournament teams. It’s up to the Bonnies to make sure the selection committee agrees…