By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
The St. Bonaventure Bonnies and Fordham Rams are facing off in Saturday afternoon’s game at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, but don’t be alarmed if you see a healthy dose of blue, black and white in the stands.
The matchup, nationally televised on NBC Sports Network, is a homecoming of sorts for Fordham’s Antwoine Anderson and Bonaventure’s Chinonso Obokoh. Anderson and Obokoh played high school ball for powerhouse Bishop Kearney, helping lead the Kings to three straight Section V championships and a state championship in 2013 with Indiana star Thomas Bryant.
The former teammates will not be facing off, however, as Obokoh will not play in front of the quasi-hometown crowd (he moved to Rochester from Enugu, Nigeria) due to his lingering knee injury.
Anderson will be an impact player in his first game at the Blue Cross since March 9, 2013, when Kearney defeated Jamestown in the state regionals. The redshirt junior has started all 17 games for the Rams this year and is the fourth teammate averaging double figures, with just under 11 points a game. He was the team’s second-leading scorer and tied for most assists in Wednesday’s upset at Davidson, with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting and four helpers in the Rams’ first conference victory.
Fordham’s biggest strength, one Anderson plays a major part in, is turning opponents over and getting out in transition, ranking fourth nationally in steals a game with 10.4 and second in turnover margin at plus-6.5.
Sophomore guard Joseph Chartouny is tied for first in the nation in total steals with 57. He recorded five swipes against Davidson, helping the team score eight points off turnovers despite the season average being brought down. Anderson is second on the team with 30 takeaways.
The Rams feature a new face as their leading scorer. Graduate student guard Javontae Hawkins, playing for his third school after stops at South Florida and Eastern Kentucky, is tied for 20th in the A-10 with 13.6 points per game. The 6-foot-5 Flint, Mich. native also ranks eighth in the league in free throw percentage, knocking down 83 percent of his shots at the stripe.
Hawkins has scored in double-figures in nine of his last 10 games, including 17 against Davidson.
Chartouny, a Montreal native, was the A-10 Rookie of the Year last season after a remarkable year that included a 15-point, 11-assist performance against Bona. His year took some of the spotlight away from Christian Sengfelder, who could have won Rookie of the Year in 2014-15 and became a better passer and defender in 2015-16.
Thus far, the German Sengfelder is second on the team in points per game (12.2), third in rebounding (4.5 a contest) and third in three-point percentage (35.5 percent). More impressively, he has committed just eight turnovers in 506 minutes of play, fewer giveaways than five players who have played fewer minutes than he has.
Fordham has a total of nine players who have averaged at least 12 minutes per game; eight of those players have made a start.
This game is a far cry from last year’s St. Joseph’s game at the Blue Cross as far as what’s at stake, and the odds of another 47-point performance like Marcus Posley’s are astronomical. But coach Jeff Neubauer’s team has shown it can create some buzz and intrigue, with the potential to shake things up over the next 14 league games.
“It’s the Atlantic 10. Every game is difficult; if you don’t play well you’re gonna lose, no matter who you’re playing,” said Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt, who would stand alone as the second-winningest coach in Bona history with a win. “They had a great win against Davidson, they played other teams tough. They have another year in their coach’s system and they’re an aggressive team that we’ve gotta be ready to play. If we don’t play well, we’re not gonna win.”
As Fordham comes in with some momentum, the Bonnies enter the Flower City with hopes that junior point guard Jaylen Adams will be healthy enough to play. Adams missed Wednesday’s loss at Richmond due to an ankle injury and is a game-time decision again on Saturday. Bona’s offense struggled without the A-10’s leading scorer, managing a season-low 61 points and getting outscored by 20 (51-31) in the second half in a 17-point defeat.
The Bonnies led the Spiders at halftime, 30-27, but were unable to create enough offense to sustain the advantage. Richmond (4-0 in the A-10) is better than Fordham on paper, but if Adams can’t go, replacing his 22 points and six assists will be a big question mark once again.
“I think right now, it’s just momentum swings,” junior guard Idris Taqqee said. “We need to just string them together and just go from there. I think that’s one thing that we faced against Richmond was that those momentum swings kind of hurt us, and not having (Adams) was definitely a thing on the defensive end and offensive end.”
There have been criticisms from fans for years about taking a game out of the Reilly Center and playing in Rochester. However, the game is a major admissions recruiting tool, with prospective students gaining free admission to the game and a reception beforehand. It also brings the Bonnies one step closer to athletic director Tim Kenney’s goal of being “Western New York’s team,” as he said in an interview with ESPN Rochester on Friday.
With students returning to Olean in a couple days after a month-long winter break, Taqqee thinks the game can serve as a rallying effort.
“I think it’s gonna be good to go to Rochester and get that good crowd and also get people that are out on break,” Taqqee said. “So I think that’s gonna bring everybody back; school starts back Monday, so bring everybody back.
“Also, they being a good home game away, neutral site, I think it’s good for us.”