Not even a four hour drive from Toronto through sleet and snow can dampen the excitement of opening night in an NCAA basketball arena. My buddy Jack and I enter the Reilly Centre, past the obligatory old and wise ticket-taker, to see the Bob Lanier court buzzing with activity just prior to tip-off. Tonight the St. Bonaventure Bonnie's will host the Cornell Big Red in the 2011 season opener for both teams.
The Bonnie's fans greet the visiting side with a hearty boo as they trot on to the court. The student section is still growing as the clock counts down to the start of another march to madness, mid-major style. The Bonnie's win the tip and pre- season Wooden Award candidate Andrew Nicholson scores the first hoop of the campaign after catching the ball at the top of the circle and driving right, with power, to the tin for a lay-up. He's Canadian and somehow we feel like we had something to do with it. As if just sharing the Great White North with him makes us a party to his success.
Not even a minute into the game both coaches are prowling the sideline. Coach Schmidt rushes back and forth in front of home bench, exhorting his charges with constant instruction. While in the opposite coach's box Bill Courtney leaps onto the court in order to get closer to his players for a personal moment, despite the presence of 4,423 witnesses.
All the familiar schemes are back in play. The DDM, the pick and roll and screens for the screener go head-to-head against the double down and the 1-3-1 full court press. It all comes together in a rush for us, as fresh as if we just diagrammed it all ourselves for the first time.
Cornell is video-game hot from the outside and St. Bonaventure is going to its bigs inside.The Big Red finishes the first half shooting 57% from beyond the arc while the home team's front court trio of Nicholson, Da'Quan Cook and Demetrius Conger carry the team. The score is 40-38 in the Bonnies' favor.
The chill in the Olean air makes its way into the Reilly Centre as the second half begins. Cornell can't buy a bucket. On the other hand, St. Bonaventure has begun to focus its attack by going to its number one option Andrew Nicholson. An early 7-2 run is stretched to a 12-2 run and by the 14:29 mark of the period the Bonnie's are up 52-40. Nicholson has hit the mark on high-low finishes, wing entry passes to drop steps, baseline jumpers and drives. It's a big man's clinic and Cornell's front court isn't picking up anything but fouls.
Courtney's team attempts to mount a charge and gets the difference down to a single digit with 10:32 remaining, but 55-46 is as close as they get. There is no answer for Nicholson and his supporting cast. Cornell goes 0-6 from distance. The home fans are beginning to relax and the attitude in the gym is noticeably more fun. There is no more resistance to the officials' calls and more than a few members of the student body are devoting there attentions to social pursuits rather than the round ball.
The game ends with St. Bonaventure's Senegalese import Youssou Ndoye taking to the court and getting all the encouragement the remaining boosters can muster. The Reilly Centre faithful retire for the night with a 79-58 win to warm them all the way home.
at SAINT BONAVENTURE 79, CORNELL 58 11/11/2011
CORNELL 0-1 (0-0) -- C. Wroblewski 0-2 4-6 4; J. Gray 2-8 3-3 7; D. Ferry 3-9 0-0 8; J. Figini 4-7 1-2 10; D. Tarwater 3-3 0-0 8; S. Miller 3-3 0-0 7; G. Cancer 0-4 2-4 2; E. Chemerinski 2-4 2-2 6; M. Asafo-Adjei 0-1 0-2 0; D. Scelfo 2-3 0-0 6; M. Groebe 0-0 0-0 0; D. Cherry 0-0 0-0 0; N. Tomic 0-1 0-0 0; P. McMillan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-45 12-19 58. SAINT BONAVENTURE 1-0 (0-0) -- A. Nicholson 7-16 10-10 24; D. Conger 3-5 2-2 9; D. Cook 3-6 2-4 8; M. Wright 5-9 2-2 13; E. Mosley 3-5 0-0 8; M. Davenport 5-8 0-2 11; C. Kloof 1-1 1-4 4; J. Houseknecht 0-0 0-0 0; J. Gathers 0-3 0-0 0; M. Simmons 0-1 2-2 2; Y. Ndoye 0-0 0-0 0; C. Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-54 19-26 79.
Three-point goals: CORN 8-20 (C. Wroblewski 0-1; J. Gray 0-3; J. Figini 1-3; D. Scelfo 2-3; D. Tarwater 2-2; D. Ferry 2-7; S. Miller 1-1), BONA 6-18 (M. Davenport 1-3; A. Nicholson 0-2; D. Conger 1-2; E. Mosley 2-4; M. Wright 1-4; C. Kloof 1-1; J. Gathers 0-2); Rebounds: CORN 23 (D. Tarwater 4), BONA 32 (D. Cook 7); Assists: CORN 12 (C. Wroblewski 8), BONA 16 (M. Wright 5); Total Fouls -- CORN 22, BONA 19; Fouled Out: CORN-None; BONA-None.