(Photo Credit: GoBonnies.com)
By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
St. Bonaventure junior guard Idris Taqqee knows tonight’s Franciscan Cup showdown with Siena at the Reilly Center isn’t “just another game.”
With Siena’s three-game win streak over Bona and questions being raised over whether fiery Saints coach Jimmy Patsos has SBU coach Mark Schmidt’s proverbial number, this one’s personal.
“I know they’re expecting it to be a big crowd after last year,” Taqqee said of his team’s second consecutive 73-70 defeat to its rival from Albany. “It was a bad upset, especially since we went into Christmas break with that loss… So it’s definitely a (bad) taste in our mouth, fan-wise and us, personally.
“I think we definitely are gonna take it personally.”
There are no holdovers from the squad that last beat Bona’s sister school. That game, a 58-43 victory on Dec. 4, 2012, gave the Bonnies a 3-0 record in the Franciscan Cup series that was established in 2010.
Now, the series is even, and Bonaventure is carrying a definite chip on its shoulder, as evidenced by Taqqee’s comments.
“Only being like three or four of us right now who have played them, I think it’s one thing we want to get across to everyone else that’s new to the team,” Taqqee said. “It’s something big to us, but also to the fans and coaches.
“It’s not just us looking at it like we’ve lost three in a row, it’s like we have to do something for the program. And that’s one thing I feel like we need to let everybody know right away when we come out.”
Reclaiming the trophy and bragging rights that come with it won’t be easy, as the Saints return four of the five players who started in last year’s game.
Marquis Wright, a 6-foot-1 senior guard, has been one of the focal points of his team’s re-emergence in the rivalry. As a freshman, Wright made the game-winning shot at the buzzer. In 2014, he had a team-high 15 points and last year he had a game-high 20.
“He’s had success his whole career, he’s a good player,” Schmidt said. “He can score in all three areas of the court- beyond the arc, inside and to the rim. He makes them go offensively, he leads the team in assists. He’s a really good player, and you’re not gonna be able to stop him; you just hope to make it a little bit more difficult for him to score.”
Redshirt senior Brett Bisping is another key player the Bonnies have been trying to stop for years. The Preseason First Team All-MAAC selection has averaged 9.3 points and six rebounds in the three times he’s played Bona. This year, however, Bisping has been battling knee injuries and has scored double-digit points just once (23 in the season opener against Cornell)– his career average is 10.7.
“He’s a good player,” Schmidt noted. “To me he’s their glue guy, he does everything pretty well. He brings them courage, seems like he’s been there forever. He’s like their Idris. He’s a glue guy, he gets a rebound, he can get that crucial shot. He’s just a really good player that we’ve gotta continually keep an eye on.”
Other impact seniors include 6-foot-7 guard/forward Lavon Long, who was recruited by Schmidt out of high school, and 6-foot-10 forward Javion Ogunyemi. Wright, Long, Ogunyemi and sophomore Nico Clareth all average at least 14 points a contest.
“We just gotta play,” Schmidt said. “We know who they have, and they’re good players and they’ve been through it a number of times. You’re only as good as your seniors, and they’ve got four really good seniors. So we know we’ve got our work cut out for us.
“We know they’re a good offensive team, they’re a good rebounding team. They change defenses a lot, so we’re gonna have to play well if we’re gonna win.”
After losing to cross-town rival Albany, falling to 2-4 and watching the Albany Cup leave Siena’s premises on Sunday, Patsos knows the game’s implications.
“(Wednesday’s) a big game,” he told the Albany Times-Union. “They’re good. Franciscan Cup. Another Cup on the line. The Albany Cup’s gone from our office. That’s what I told the players.”
As for the Bonnies, the growth of the post players has been a focus. In the team’s three victories, freshman Josh Ayeni has averaged 9.7 points and 4.7 rebounds, committing just one turnover against Central Michigan. In the two defeats, he scored just six total points and grabbed only four rebounds, fouling out of both games. LaDarien Griffin’s career-high 11 points against Little Rock showed his scoring potential, while David Andoh has played 10 or more minutes in each of the past three games. Amadi Ikpeze and Chinonso Obokoh have been inconsistent, but have shown ability.
Taqqee, who has helped out in the rebounding category with just over six a contest, praised the progress of his big men.
“I think they’re coming along. We’re just trying to find the open spots,” Taqqee said. “If the guard’s open, we’re just gonna take the open shot, and if the bigs have a mismatch just let us know, should give us a passing lane.
“Me personally, just tell everybody to have fun. We don’t know what matchups are gonna look like against Siena, but the open window, we’ll take it, whether it’s down low or guard-wise.”
At night’s end, it’ll be all about which team is hoisting the Cup.
“For me personally, I’ve never beaten them,” Taqqee said. “If I can get a Franciscan Cup, that’s real big right now.”