Bonnies drop heartbreaker to rival Niagara, 77-71

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LEWISTON, N.Y. — In a second half that featured 13 lead changes and five ties it was host Niagara that pulled away in the final 20 minutes for a dramatic 77-71 comeback win over St. Bonaventure in front a capacity crowd of 2,400 fans Tuesday night at “Taps” Gallagher Center.

The 150th meeting between the two tradition-rich programs would have made the originators of this Little 3 rivalry proud, as both teams produced stellar 20-minute efforts. Unfortunately, for the Bonnies, theirs was in the first half.

Despite trailing by 16, 41-25, at the break, Niagara opened the final frame on a game-altering 19-2 run that gave the Purple Eagles their first lead since the opening minute of the half.

All 13 of the second half lead changes came over a nine-minute span that was capped by a pair of three-pointers from Demetrius Williamson that gave the home team the lead for good. Niagara out-scored the Bonnies 52-30 in the second half.

The loss is the second in a row for the Brown and White, who fall to 6-5 on the season. The win extends the Purple Eagle’s winning streak in the series to seven games, as they improve to 8-4.

Sophomore sensation Andrew Nicholson dominated the paint, but was limited to just 16 minutes due to foul trouble in both halves. Nicholson made the most out of his playing time, finishing with a game-high 24 points and seven rebounds. The 6-foot-9 forward connected on 10-of-14 from the field, highlighted by seven dunks.

Aiding St. Bonaventure’s 44-31 edge on the glass was senior Jonathan Hall, who had his fourth career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds to go along with five assists. Sophomore Michael Davenport grabbed a career-high nine rebounds, while junior Malcolm Eleby had 11 points and four assists.

Williamson led Niagara with a career-high 22 points on 6-of-12 from the field and 8-of-14 from the charity stripe. Williamson was 0-for-4 from long range before burying the two threes down the stretch. Senior Tyrone Lewis was the only other Purple Eagle player in double figures with 17.

After a three-pointer off the opening tip by Lewis, the Bonnies used their transition game to sprint out on a 14-0 run that left the home crowd stunned and the away team leading 14-3 just shortly after the first media timeout. Nicholson had six points during the run, including a pair of huge dunks, while Chris Matthews and Hall both supplied three-pointers on the break.

Niagara drew within 18-8 after Nicholson picked up his second foul of the game and was forced to the bench, but St. Bonaventure responded with a 7-2 run that featured buckets from Da’Quan Cook, Demitrius Conger and Davenport to take a 25-10 advantage.

The Bona lead dropped to as low as 12, 31-19, with 7:13 remaining, but it was Eleby to the rescue, as the third-year point guard scored the team’s last nine points of the half. The highlight of the final seconds came when Eleby picked up a steal at midcourt and took in the distance for his first career dunk.

Despite Nicholson missing the final 14 minutes of the half, St. Bonaventure took a 41-25 lead into the locker room – its sixth double figure lead at the half this season. Nicholson had 10 pints in just six minutes, while Hall nearly had a double-double at the break with nine points and nine boards.

Foul trouble plagued Nicholson again in the early stages of the second half, as two quick fouls sent him back to the bench. With the 6-foot-9 reigning Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year on the pine, Niagara stormed out to a game-changing 19-2 run that gave the Purple Eagles their first lead, 44-43, since the opening minute of the game. During the spurt, the Brown and White connected on just 1-of-8 from the field, which was a dunk from Nicholson, and had four turnovers over the opening 7:17.

Usually the one to capitalize on turnovers, St. Bonaventure’s 20 miscues led to a 22-10 advantage in points off turnovers for Niagara. The Bonnies shot 44 percent (28-63) from the floor and 83 percent (10-12) from the line. The high free throw percentage was out-done by Niagara’s 31 attempts at the charity stripe.

St. Bonaventure will closeout its string of games against Little 3 opponents following a short break for Christmas when it hosts Canisius on Wednesday, Dec. 30. The 158th meeting between the two teams is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Reilly Center.