(Marcus Posley and Jaylen Adams Photo Credit: GoBonnies.com)
By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
The St. Bonaventure Bonnies and Dayton Flyers come into Tuesday night’s game in the Reilly Center with identical Atlantic 10 records, but make no mistake: Bona is the team with more to prove.
Dayton has won 20 or more games in seven of the last eight years and is 102-50 since Archie Miller was hired as head coach in 2011. The Flyers have defeated the brown and white in five straight games, the last Bona win coming in Jan. 2012, when star big man Andrew Nicholson had 30 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks.
After a surprising loss to La Salle on Jan. 9 bounced them out of the Associated Press Top 25 poll, the Flyers bounced back with wins over Davidson and George Washington, two of the league’s top contenders.
Miller’s team is currently tenth in the nation in Rating Percentage Index (RPI), which takes winning percentage, opponents’ winning percentage and opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage into account. The Bonnies are 51st in that index, good for fifth in the league.
What makes the Flyers the arguable class of the conference? The key to their success is represented in their slogan, “True Team.” Not many teams play with more unity and unselfishness than Dayton, who has four players averaging in double figures and averages 15.2 assists per game.
“There’s a reason they’re successful: they have really good players, they play together and they’re well-coached,” said SBU coach Mark Schmidt.
After losing leading scorer Jordan Sibert to graduation at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season, there were questions about who would take control of the “True Team” scoring load. The logical answer over the summer would have been 6-foot-6 senior forward Dyshawn Pierre, who averaged 12.7 points last season.
In September, however, Pierre’s future at Dayton was uncertain after he was suspended from school after an investigation into allegations of sexual assault that were reported in May. Pierre was not charged with a crime and sued the school, but his ban was upheld and he missed all but one non-conference game.
In Pierre’s absence, junior Charles Cooke, a transfer from James Madison, became the team’s leading scorer. He is currently averaging 15.7 points a game on 45.7 percent shooting from the floor, including a 43 percent mark from three-point range.
It’s still early in the A-10 slate, but Cooke is not far behind from Sibert’s offensive output last season, and he averages about three more rebounds a game as well. The seamless transition is a major reason his team is 14-3.
“He’s as good as Sibert was,” Schmidt said. “He shoots (43 percent) from three, he takes guys off the dribble and he’s bigger than Sibert. He may be better than Sibert, so he presents a lot of problems.”
Cooke is exceeding expectations, aided by All-A-10 candidates Kendall Pollard and Scoochie Smith, but Pierre is still the main attraction after scoring 26 points and grabbing five rebounds in the win over George Washington. 15 of those 26 points came by way of the three-ball, providing a glimpse into a part of his game that isn’t always on display; last year he attempted about three triples a game, while he is averaging about five tries from behind the arc so far this year.
“He’s a big difference; he makes them that much better,” said Schmidt. “He can shoot the ball from the perimeter, he can pass the ball, he can defend the post… they can do different things with him than they can with the other guys. With him, they’re a much better team.”
Sophomore point guard Jaylen Adams was forced to watch two of the three games against Dayton last season from the bench due to finger surgery, and the one he was able to play in was a 17-point drubbing at the Reilly.
Bona’s 0-3 record against Miller, Pierre and co. since he set foot on campus motivated Adams, who said, “that’s incentive enough; we’ve gotta beat them.”
“This is a very important game,” Adams continued. “I think we’ve got to establish that we’re for real in the league and that our wins aren’t jokes in any way. This is a big-time game.”
The Bonnies will get an extra boost on Tuesday night in the form of their Wolfpack student section. The game is being billed as a “Whiteout,” with the first 800 students receiving a white shirt to wear and all fans being encouraged to wear the color.
SBU went 4-0 at home when the students were on break, but Adams cracked a smile when he discussed the section’s return.
“We’ve got the zoo back, so it’s good to have the students back in full effect,” he said.
“I think we’re a tough team to beat when they’re loud.”