(#1 Idris Taqqee and #3 Marcus Posley photo credit: GoBonnies.com)
By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
St. Bonaventure men’s basketball coach Mark Schmidt doesn’t pay any mind to the Bonnies’ three-game winning streak against the St. Joseph’s Hawks.
“If we had lost three in a row we wouldn’t be talking about ‘revenge,'” Schmidt said. “I don’t agree with any of that stuff. It’s a whole new team, a whole new year.”
Bona’s three wins in the series last year included one at home, one in Philadelphia and one in Brooklyn for the Atlantic 10 tournament, but the Hawks are a much better team this year. They currently stand third in the A-10 standings at 7-1 in-conference and 18-3 overall.
Last season, SJU was coined “The DeAndre’ Bembry Show.” Bembry, the 6-foot-6 forward with an ABA-style afro, did it all in 2014-15, leading the team in points (17.7), rebounds (7.7) and assists (3.6) a game.
This season, however, Bembry isn’t even the team’s leading scorer or rebounder. Those distinctions belong to 6-foot-7 senior forward Isaiah Miles, who is averaging 17.8 points and 8.3 rebounds.
Two other Hawks (James Demery and Shavar Newkirk) have increased their scoring by two or more points a game, while senior guard Aaron Brown has remained consistent in the nine-point range.
“Miles might be the most improved player in the league, Bembry might be player of the year; those two guys are really key,” Schmidt said. “But the reason why St. Joe’s is as good as they are is the role guys have gotten better.”
That improvement is not limited to the offensive end. As a team, the Hawks are playing great defense, ranking fourth in scoring defense at just 67 points allowed per game and first in field goal percentage defense at 39.4 percent.
“It’s a challenge,” Schmidt said. “They play really good defense, they’re great at the three-point line. They go small. That creates problems offensively but they do a good job on the ball screens. Very similar to Dayton their big guys can guard big guys in the post, but their big guys can step out and shoot the ball from three.
“They’re very similar to Dayton; they’re like the old Dayton. They play really good defense, they can switch things and their big guys are four-men that can guard fives.”
Defending Bembry is a constant challenge, one that the Bonnies don’t charge to just one player. Last year, Andell Cumberbatch was one of the players who guarded the NBA prospect most frequently, but Bona switched one-through-four on defense. Everyone had their chance to shut down the star, and it worked in Brooklyn, when he went just 3-of-14 from the field.
“Everybody had (Bembry) last year,” Schmidt said. “We tried to put feet around him, make it hard for him. We know he’s going to get points; you just have to make it more difficult for him. Any chance you get to take a touch away, you take a touch away.”
This would be a marquee win for SBU. No victory in Philly is an easy one, especially going up against a team with just one A-10 loss.
“It’s one of those things where we’re telling the other guys ‘they’re ready,'” said sophomore guard Idris Taqqee. “They want to get revenge. They’re down 0-3, so we have to let everybody else know.
“We kind of have the upper hand,” he continued. “We’re up 3-0, so let’s go 4-0.”