By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
Dayton redshirt senior Charles Cooke is one of the most banged-up players in the Atlantic 10, but the 9-4 St. Bonaventure Bonnies are preparing for him like he’s healthy.
Cooke, the Flyers’ leading scorer with 18.7 points a game, is being called a “game-time decision” for tonight’s Dayton-Bonaventure game in the Reilly Center due to a back injury he suffered with just over three minutes left in UD’s Dec. 30 win over La Salle. The 6-foot-5 guard had just returned from a wrist injury that forced him to sit out Dayton’s Dec. 23 win over VMI.
Dayton Daily News columnist Tom Archdeacon said it took Cooke “a good three minutes” to walk from the court to the locker room, a walk able-bodied players complete in “a few second.” Coach Archie Miller was unsure of his star’s status in his postgame press conference, saying, “I suspect he could be out a little bit.”
The all-league first team and all-defensive team selection may have a 50-50 chance to play, but he did make the trip from Ohio to Olean, which means SBU is preparing for him to suit up.
“If he plays he plays, if he doesn’t he doesn’t,” said Bonnies forward Denzel Gregg, who has scored double-figure points in nine of the last 10 games. “We’re gameplanning like he’s gonna play, so if not we’ll deal with it when we get there.”
Cooke ranks seventh in the conference in scoring and shot 13-of-27 from the floor in UD’s two games against Bona last year, so his absence would be significant, especially considering the other injuries the 10-3 Flyers have had. Redshirt sophomore Josh Cunningham’s season may have ended after he underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in his ankle that he suffered coming down from a dunk in the second game of the year. Junior guard Darrell Davis missed the La Salle game with a hamstring injury.
However, the Flyers still have the talent to stay afloat and be a dangerous team, even if Cooke and Davis aren’t in uniform. Senior guard Scoochie Smith and classmate forward Kendall Pollard, who has overcome injuries of his own, are both double-figure scorers. Senior guard Kyle Davis scored 12 against La Salle, his sixth game with at least eight points in the last seven matchups against A-10 opponents.
In total, eight active Flyers average at least five points a game. That depth has helped UD win eight of its last nine contests, the lone loss being a three-point defeat against Northwestern.
Dating back to last season, the Flyers have won eight of their last ten A-10 road games.
“They’re the barometer,” Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt said. “They’re good every year, and we’re gonna test ourselves against one of the top if not the top team in our league, and we’ll find out where we’re at. It’s a great challenge. We know they’re talented, they’re talented every year. They’re well-coached and it’s gonna be a challenge, like it is every year.”
Last year, the teams split their two meetings, with each team grabbing wins on the road. Bonaventure’s win against a No. 15 Dayton team in UD Arena last February snapped a six-game losing streak against the Flyers.
If Bona hadn’t entered the locker room down 45-18 in last January’s matchup at the Reilly Center, it could have earned the season sweep. A 61-point second half wasn’t enough in a six-point loss.
“We know if we don’t defend against Dayton, they’ll kill us,” Schmidt said. “It’s important, it’s the staple, it’s how you win in the Atlantic 10 and hopefully our guys saw that against UMass and hopefully it continues.”
Dayton’s transition game is one of the best in college basketball. The Flyers love forcing turnovers (opponents commit 16.5 a game) and turning them into easy baskets the other way.
“We have to take care of the basketball- they’re really good in the open court,” Schmidt said. “That’s the first key and then secondly, they’re tremendous in transition, make or miss, so floor balance is important. Running good offense, spreading back, trying to force a five-on-five game but they’re really talented in the open court.
“Smith makes them go. They surround him with terrific shooters, so that’s probably the biggest challenge is trying to stop them in transition.”
After holding UMass to 5-of-20 shooting from three-point territory last game, the Bonnies may have some confidence back on defense. But Gregg wants to see consistency.
“I think so, but the challenge is to do it more than once, you know what I’m saying?” he said. “It’s easy to do something one time, especially coming off a loss, so we’ve gotta put it together back-to-back and keep it rolling.”