By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
ROCHESTER — For the first six minutes, it looked like a Jaylen Adams-less St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team could have trouble offensively against another Atlantic 10 opponent.
After an Antwoine Anderson three-pointer gave the Fordham a 12-6 lead, the Bonnies outscored the Rams by 26 the rest of the way and secured an unusually straight-forward 73-53 victory in front of 6,386 observers at the Blue Cross Arena on Saturday afternoon.
Adams missed the second consecutive game due to an ankle injury, but his teammates stepped up in a big way on both sides of the court. Junior guard Matt Mobley led all scorers with 25 points on 7-of-11 shooting while collecting five rebounds. Senior forward Denzel Gregg wasn’t far behind, with 21 on a 8-of-14 clip from the floor along with nine boards. Freshman Josh Ayeni rounded out the temporary “Big Three,” scoring 12 of his 16 points from the free throw line as well as corralling seven boards.
“Whenever you lose somebody, especially a player like Jay, those other guys have to step up, play even better,” Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt said. “They can’t play an average game; they have to play better. And I thought against Richmond in the second half, our better players just played average. And when you have probably your best player sitting on the bench, you need to have those other guys play better, and today they did.”
Fordham’s half-court press at the start of the game resulted in seven SBU turnovers by the under-12 timeout. Coach Jeff Neubauer’s defense gave a team without its best ball handler a run for its money early. Schmidt described it as “the fire drill that we flunked.”
“It had nothing to do with Jay; it had everything to do with what they were doing,” Schmidt said. “A pressing team, it’s hard to simulate in practice how fast it is. With them, they’re not a pressing team, they’re a half-court trapping team and it’s hard to simulate in practice. You can say, ‘Alright, this is what’s gonna happen,’ but the scout team’s doing it at 50 miles per hour; they’re doing it at 100 miles an hour.
“You have to get used to the speed of it, and we did that. Once we did that, we figured out what they were doing, we got comfortable with the speed, the game slowed down a little bit for the guys, I think, and they were able to make plays.”
Regular backup point guard Nelson Kaputo replaced Adams in the starting lineup once again. Kaputo scored just three free throws in 36 minutes of play and didn’t attempt a field goal, but handled the pressure well, with six assists.
“People that don’t really know the game will look at the stat sheet and say ‘oh man, their point guard didn’t score a point,'” Schmidt said. “But he had six assists and he really did a really good job of dealing with the pressure that he was under.”
Even as Bonaventure was enjoying a rare blowout win, a few fans grumbled about the brown and white’s NCAA Tournament chances likely being limited to an Atlantic 10 Tournament championship in Pittsburgh. However, there are parallels between the current team and the 2011-12 team that won it all in Atlantic City after having virtually no chance at an at-large bid.
The 2011-12 squad, led by an All-A-10 First Team player in Andrew Nicholson, started conference play 2-2, with the two losses coming by double digits. In the fifth game, the team bounced back with a blowout win over Fordham. While today’s Bonnies didn’t put up 95 points like their predecessors did, they allowed just two more points.
Like Nicholson and co., Mobley and his teammates shot 52.5 percent against the Rams.
“We want this to be a good year,” Mobley said. “So we figured this was a good starting point right here to bounce back, and just hope we keep it going for the rest of the season.”