The Saint Louis University men's basketball team came into Brooklyn, N.Y. this week hoping to repeat as Atlantic 10 Tournament champions. Instead, a buzzer-beating three-point basket from St. Bonaventure guard Jordan Gathers ended those hopes abruptly, sending the Billikens home -- 71-68.
SLU senior forward Dwayne Evans hit just his fourth triple of the year to knot the score at 68 with 20.9 seconds remaining, but that would ultimately set up Gathers' heroics.
The Billikens started out scorching, running out to leads of 18-6 and 32-19 behind an exceptional first half performance from Mike McCall Jr.
However what started with a last-second drive from Youssou Ndoye to end the first 20 minutes continued throughout the final 20 minutes as the Bonnies shot 59 percent to shock the top-seeded Bills.
Charlon Kloof, who kept SBU in the game and just a 10-point deficit at halftime, gave way to Matthew Wright who simply took over the second half. He finished with 22 points, including several very key three-point baskets.
SBU head coach Mark Schmidt couldn't say enough about his diminutive point guard's massive bucket to win the game.
"Jordan's big shot, the biggest shot of the year, and probably one of the biggest shots in Bonaventure history," he said postgame. "So it was a great victory. We showed some character. We fought and we did it together and really proud of our team and the effort that they gave."
Gathers liked what he saw from the release.
"When I let it go, yeah, I knew it was going in," he said. "I've been in the gym working hard and it's finally paid off."
Wright, who had faced a tough task defensively with A-10 Player of the Year Jordair Jett and McCall, was able to shake himself free on numerous occasions on the offensive end.
"Youssou's full-court layup gave us momentum going into the second half," he said. " I kept telling the team to relax, the game isn't done yet, so a lot of basketball left. I was ready, when Dwyane Evans hit that three, I told them, the game isn't done yet."
Wright was not always a known commodity -- in fact, barely no one knew who he was period.
"Matthew Wright didn't have a scholarship offer from any school," Schmidt said. "We got Matthew Wright in June, might have even been early July, and he had nothing. I don't think anybody knew Matthew Wright. I certainly didn't."
For SLU, it was yet another tale of not being able to close out a game.
"I didn't think they were aggressive with it," McCall Jr. said of the Bonnies 1-3-1 defense. " thought it was just sticking-- just holding the ball and not attacking it. They was trying to turn us over and stuff like that, and I just probably should be more aggressive with it but wasn't."
Head coach Jim Crews said that the Bonnies' zone was a big difficulty for his squad.
"Their zone bothered us in terms of being in rhythm," he noted. "We just didn't get guys in the right spots in a consistent way. So really don't know why, but we were having problems with that."
On the bright side though for SLU, it now has plenty of time to prepare for the NCAA Tournament, where it figures to get a high single-digit seed.
"Yeah, it's tough losing the first one, especially in the tournament," McCall Jr. said. "But like I said, we have to get back in the gym, clean up some things and get ready for the NCAA Tournament."
For now, though, the Billikens were left to feel the anguish of defeat.
"We thought we were going to win," Evans said. "We thought we were going to win-- with the mind-set of getting a stop. We tried to ball screen the last one. So, I mean, things didn't go our way."
SLU Drops Heartbreaker At Buzzer, Loses 71-68
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