(Photo Credit: GoBonnies.com)
By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
St. Bonaventure men’s basketball coach Mark Schmidt predicted a close game ahead of Tuesday night’s game at Saint Louis.
“It’s gonna come down to the last three or four minutes,” Schmidt said.
Fans may scoff at the 10th-year coach’s prognostication, given the Billikens’ 1-4 Atlantic 10 record and the Bonnies being listed as 9.5-point favorites at press time. However, you don’t even have to look back a full calendar year to understand why SBU isn’t taking SLU lightly.
Bonaventure was a 13.5-point favorite when the schools met in the Reilly Center last Super Bowl Sunday, and the teams had reverse conference records (Bona 6-3, Saint Louis 3-6). But the Bonnies came out flat, trailing for about 34 of the 40 minutes and shooting just 39 percent for the game. A Jaylen Adams three-pointer at the buzzer gave them a 65-62 victory and avoided a bad home loss.
Bona won handily in the second half of the home-and-home, 76-67, but SLU proved it wasn’t a cakewalk if its opposition played poorly. Four of the five Billiken starters from those contests return, Ash Yacoubou being the lone exception.
New Saint Louis coach Travis Ford was a wise hire that won’t need long to bring the program back to title contention. Ford was fired from Oklahoma St. despite leading the Cowboys to six postseason appearances in eight seasons. He is already earning commitments from high-caliber recruits, nabbing 2018 post player Carte’Are Gordon over Kansas and Missouri and 2017 forward Jordan Goodwin over Illinois and Missouri.
Until the likes of Goodwin and Gordon arrive on campus, Ford must work with the team he inherited from predecessor Jim Crews, who led the Billikens to two NCAA Tournament wins but struggled once Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Jordair Jett left.
With leading scorer Jermaine Bishop out with an ankle injury, the Billikens don’t have a player averaging more than 10 points per game. Junior guard Davell Roby, the next man up on offense, is shooting just 38 percent, worse than every Bona player who has attempted 40 or more shots. Buffalo native Reggie Agbeko is the third player in double figures.
The worst offensive team in the league hasn’t done much better on the defensive side of the ball, either, allowing conference opponents to score 74 points a game and shoot 48 percent. It’s also the worst rebounding team, getting outrebounded by an average of seven boards in the A-10. Unlike Fordham, SLU doesn’t turn opponents over either, averaging just under four steals.
By almost every statistical and talent measure, this should be a lopsided game and start of a Bonnies winning streak, with or without Jaylen Adams in the lineup.
Schmidt, like Bill Belichick (who coaches his beloved Patriots), won’t tip his hand over Adams’s status, which will probably be a mystery until pregame warmups around 7-7:30 p.m. One thing he made clear was the team’s serious approach to the Midwest trip.
Three of the Billikens’ four league losses have been to Rhode Island, La Salle and Davidson, which are hardly cellar-dwellers this season. That’s enough to give the Bona coaching staff a bit of respect for Ford’s squad.
“It’s the Atlantic 10. We beat Fordham, (which went) to Davidson and beats Davidson,” said Schmidt, who became the second all-time winningest coach in school history after Saturday’s win. “You’ve gotta take care of business. It’s an away game, which makes it even more difficult. They’re tough. They’ve played teams hard, close.
“It’s gonna be another difficult game, and we have to play well.”