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  • Budd Bailey

Bonnies stomp Niagara

By Budd Bailey

Marshall Wingate probably thought that Wednesday night would be the time for pleasant memories of his basketball career at Niagara. After all, a banner with his name on it was scheduled to be raised to the rafters of the Gallagher Center. Wingate starred for the Purple Eagles from 1969 to 1972, helping them reach two national tournaments.

However, during the game between today’s Niagara players and their opponents from St. Bonaventure, Wingate might have been reminded of a game played on March 1, 1970. In that one, the Bonnies recorded a 104-68 win over the Eagles – the most one-sided result in the 102-year rivalry between the schools. Yes, Wingate was on the roster that night as both teams warmed up for a coming appearance in the NCAA Tournament later that month.

That record still stood after Wednesday’s game, but it was close.

Bona had a 43-point lead (84-41) with about seven minutes to go, and led by 41 with 75 seconds left. Only a seven-point Niagara burst at the end prevented the most one-sided game in series history. Still, a 94-60 victory was more than enough to show that it wasn’t much of a contest.

“Our guys played a complete game today,” Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt said. “We were very complimentary, offensively and defensively. We got off to a shaky start, but then our guys really got locked in. We shot the ball, and that’s going to overshadow what we did defensively. … But we kept the ball out of the paint.”

“They set the tone inside, and they shot the heck out of it,” Niagara coach Greg Paulus said.

In other words, St. Bonaventure played like a big, athletic Atlantic 10 team that was getting ready for conference play in a few weeks. Niagara played like a Metro Atlantic team that has several new faces and simply couldn’t handle the physical mismatches that came with the territory.

“They had 48 points in the paint, and they did in with multiple systems – inside-outside,” Paulus said.

Some other statistics tell the fuller story of the game. The Bonnies shots 66.7 percent from the field, which is rather ridiculous. However, they were 12 of 19 on three-point shots (63.2 percent), which is beyond ridiculous.

This all probably made sense to those who showed up a little late. They missed the way that Niagara jumped out to an 8-2 lead after four minutes of play. The Eagles still had a 13-9 lead with 13:45 to go in the first half., so a good game seemed possible.

St. Bonaventure scored the next 12 points to take an eight-point lead with 9:45 left in the half. But after a three-pointer by Ahmad Henderson II of Niagara, the Bonnies scored the next 19 points. That burst mostly featured scoring around the basket (only one three-pointer). That means Bona had a 31-3 run over the course of nine minutes.

“They were physical and aggressive, extending outside the three-point line,” Paulus said about the Bona defense. “I think we missed some opportunities that I liked.”

That’s the sort of performance that will prompt media members to wonder if a mercy rule had been introduced to the rules of college basketball on Wednesday morning.

“From the jump, Coach let us know that we had an advantage inside, so we wanted to go inside,” Noel Brown said. “Especially once their big man (Harlan Obioha) got some fouls, we started to double down on that. Once we got going, it made it easier to kick the ball outside. The whole team gets involved.”

A fact check revealed that games still lasted 40 minutes, so we continued. St. Bonaventure went on a 4-0 in a two and a half minute span early in the second half to make it a 61-23 game Niagara gave up seven three-pointers in the first 10 minutes of the half.

“The mindset was we can’t get comfortable,” Mike Adams-Woods of Bona said. “We’ve got to keep our foot on the gas.

The Bonnies were led on the scoreboard by Adams-Woods, who had a career-high 25 points on 10 of 11 shooting. Four others were in double figures. Henderson led the Purple Eagles with 13 points.

In the big picture, both teams continued in the direction they had been going entering the game. St. Bonaventure improved to 6-2 with its fourth straight win, helping wipe the memory of a loss to Canisius on Nov. 11 at least partially away.

“No team or no player stays the same during the season – you get worse or you get better,” Schmidt said. “Our goal is to get better. We’re not nearly where we need to be, but we’re making progress. In this four-game winning streak that we have, we’re getting better. … Our guys are understanding how to play. We’re committed to each other.”

Niagara had lost two close conference games over the weekend, so this loss dropped the team to 1-6. It’s practically a whole new roster on the season, and it’s going to take time for it to come together.

“We’ve got to keep learning from the film, working on those things and developing those habits,” Paulus said.

Wingate still seemed as if he had a memorable return to the Niagara campus despite the score and the outcome. He was saluted by Paulus after the game at a news conference.

“What an amazing career he’s had,” the coach said. “We’re proud to honor him tonight. Just to see his reaction and talk to him, you know how much he loves Niagara. He left an amazing legacy here.”

Marshall Wingate takes a bow at Niagara's men's basketball game Wednesday night.

(Follow Budd on via @WDX2BB)

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