(Photo Credit: Charles Fox- The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)
By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
After St. Bonaventure’s victory over Duquesne and VCU’s loss to George Mason on Wednesday night, Bonnies fans came to an exciting realization.
Their team, picked to finish eighth in the Atlantic 10 at the beginning of the year, still has a chance at the league’s regular season title. The last time they achieved a share of that title was 1983.
“Yeah, that’s one of our goals every year: to win the Atlantic 10,” said Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt. “So from day one that’s what we practiced for, to try to win the league.
“You shoot for as high as you can go, and winning the league is what it’s all about; that’s what we try to do.”
To get that one-seed in the A-10 Tournament, the next goal will be to defeat UMass on Saturday at 4. It’s Senior Day for Marcus Posley and Dion Wright, who are hoping for their 20th win of the season.
The last meeting time Bonaventure and UMass (12-15, 5-10 in A-10) met was Jan. 9, an 88-77 SBU win. The Bonnies shot 59.6 percent from the field in that contest, with a 10-of-18 mark from three.
Jaylen Adams led the way against the Minutemen with 24 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field and an 11-of-13 clip from the foul line. Four other Bona players joined him in double-figures: Wright had 19 points, Posley scored 15, Denzel Gregg added 12 and Nelson Kaputo chipped in 10, his highest in A-10 play.
Derek Kellogg’s UMass team averages 7.5 made three-pointers a game, but Bonaventure held the Minutemen to 4-of-22 shooting from deep. Free throw shooting was also a factor, as SBU went 22-of-25 from the stripe to UMass’s 15-of-23 outing.
The Minutemen started conference play 1-7, but have improved of late, winning three of their last five games. The most notable game was a 69-63 victory over VCU. Donte Clark and Trey Davis combined for 40 points in that game, while the team was 10-of-17 from three-point range and managed to grab as many rebounds (28) as the Rams did.
“They’ve got good pieces and they’re playing hard,” Schmidt said. “They’re playing together, and that’s why they’re having success.”
UMass and Bonaventure are both 6-3 in games decided by six points or fewer this season. The Bonnies just played in one of those games, an 80-76 win over Duquesne at the Reilly Center on Wednesday. The Minutemen won 70-64 against George Mason on Feb. 21 before falling 74-57 to St. Joe’s last time out.
UMass, who would be the 11th seed in the A-10 Tournament if the season ended today, is led by Davis, Clark and Jabarie Hinds, Kellogg’s version of a Big 3. The trio has scored 67 percent of the team’s points in conference games, with Davis leading the scoring at 17.7 a game.
Davis is the fourth-best free throw shooter in league play, at 88 percent. He is also tied with Posley for three-pointers made with an average of 2.6 a game. The Minutemen are one of four teams to have three or more players in the top 25 of the league in scoring, along with Bonaventure, Davidson and Richmond.
Like the Bonnies, the Minutemen also have an x-factor that, at times, can make their team a Big 4. Antwan Space is a Denzel Gregg-type, a big, athletic forward who is averaging 7.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and just under a block a game.
Space has played 17 games this season, with six double-digit scoring games and five games with eight or more rebounds. In the matchup against SBU in Amherst, he scored 14 points, grabbed four rebounds and swiped two steals.
“I think Space is in better shape,” Schmidt noted. “When we first played them he was just coming in… so he’s got his legs underneath him, and he’s a really good player.”
Schmidt’s team knows that hype is building around the program, with many fans looking past this matchup to Wednesday’s clash with St. Joe’s in Rochester, or even to Brooklyn. While everyone else speculates, his coaching staff and players are solely focused on the next task.
“Yeah, that’s the only way you can approach it,” Schmidt said. “We’re not good enough just to show up. We can beat anybody in this league, we can lose to anybody in this league, so you’ve got to be focused every game.
“You’ve got to prepare for every game; you can’t look ahead. It doesn’t help looking ahead, it doesn’t help looking back, you’ve got to be in the present. That’s what we’ve been trying to do all year.”
A win in today’s game would give Bona its first 20-win regular season since the 1976-77 season and its most A-10 wins ever.