(Nelson Kaputo Photo Credit: GoBonnies.com)
By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
The St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team puts its five-game winning streak at Rose Hill Gymnasium to the test on Wednesday at 7 against Fordham.
The Bonnies may have defeated the Rams in eight of the last nine meetings, but this is an improved team under first-year coach Jeff Neubauer. The 3-7 A-10 record is less than stellar, but has the program tied for 10th place; it has finished in the bottom three of the conference standings every year since the 2007-08 season. Nine non-conference victories brings its overall record to 12-9.
Fordham’s wins are not all that impressive- La Salle, George Mason and UMass are currently the bottom three of the standings- but its defense has been strong this season.
The Rams rank fifth in the league in scoring defense, allowing just 68 points a game. They are tied for fourth in three-point percentage allowed at 32 percent, third in blocks a game with 4.1 and second in steals a game with just under nine.
The stingy defense has Neubauer’s club posting a formidable 11-3 record at home this season. It even played league leader Dayton tough at historic Rose Hill, nearly outscoring the Flyers in the second half of a 14-point loss.
“They’re pressing, they’re trapping,” Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt said. “They trap all ball screens, they trap full court, they’ll go 1-2-1-1. They want the game to go fast, so they want you to either turn the ball over or take a quick shot, both in the full court and the half court, and they’re good at it.”
Mandell Thomas, a 6-foot-2 senior guard out of Rochester, N.Y., is the Rams’ standout. Thomas averages 14 points, 4.6 rebounds and two steals in about 32 minutes of play a game. 6-foot-2 junior guard Jon Severe was the team’s leading scorer as a freshman in 2013-14 with 17 points a game, but briefly left the team in 2014-15 and has averaged just eight points since.
Talented forward Ryan Rhoomes complements Thomas with his post play. The 6-foot-8 senior has scored 13.7 points a game and grabbed 8.4 rebounds, with almost two blocks a game as well. He has scored in double figures in 12 of the last 13 games, while a 25-point, 18-board performance against La Salle on Jan. 6 was his career best.
Neubauer’s squad is a second-half team; it has scored 54 more points in over the course of the season than its opponents in the second session.
“Their guards are really good. They’re all penetrators, they’re really aggressive,” Schmidt said. “They’re a good offensive team and they get a lot off their defense.”
Bona’s buzzer-beating win against Saint Louis provided plenty of drama, but it dropped the team four slots in the RPI, to no. 49. While the RPI changes every night based on every team’s performance, sophomore captain Idris Taqqee knows a loss to Fordham would be a ratings killer.
“We just can’t get relaxed,” Taqqee said. “That’s one of the things that (Schmidt) was stressing.
“(Saint Louis) was one of those things where we got complacent just a little bit, and we knew it. But then once we pulled it out, it was one of the those things like, ‘OK, we gotta bring it back together.'”
Another harrowing reminder that Bona can’t overlook this Rams team? There are plenty of parallels to the 2012-13 team that lost to Fordham last. That group was averaging 14 assists and six steals a game while shooting 44 percent from the field, just like the current edition.