By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
The Ryan Center, the 7,657-seat home of University of Rhode Island basketball, will serve as a proving ground when the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team comes to visit on Saturday afternoon.
URI was lauded by some as the cream of the Atlantic 10 crop in the preseason. Dayton was picked as the favorite by media members, but with star guard E.C. Matthews returning from an ACL tear and a stacked upperclass that also includes Jarvis Garrett, Kuran Iverson, Hassan Martin and Jared Terrell, there was palpable hype surrounding coach Danny Hurley’s team. The Rams were voted No. 23 in the Associated Press’s preseason rankings.
However, Rhody has yet to become a dominant team. It is currently sixth in the A-10 standings at 4-3, with a 12-7 overall record. Double-digit losses to La Salle at home (which just lost to an under-.500 Penn team) and at Richmond haven’t helped its NCAA Tournament resume, which was bolstered by a win over Cincinnati.
Garrett has missed the last three games due to illness. Even if the 6-foot guard can play, his effectiveness will be a question mark; he’s scored in single figures in all but one of the last eight contests.
The Bonnies are a game ahead of the Rams, but are looking for their first major conference road victory. A win would move them into a four or five-way (if La Salle beats St. Joe’s) tie for first place.
One aspect of the Saturday showdown is a near-certainty: it will be physical. The Bonnies and Rams are fourth and fifth, respectively, in league play in scoring defense, allowing just 69 points a game, and third and fourth in rebounding margin.
Iverson is second in A-10 games in rebounding with 10.3 boards, including a career-high 23 against Richmond.
“Rebounding’s always one of the big points that we emphasize every game. The team that wins the backboard usually wins the game,” Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “Rhode Island’s really athletic and we better put a body on those guys if we’re gonna be able to get rebounds.”
Bona entered the A-10 slate with the highest scoring offense, but has won defensive battles of late, allowing 65 points or fewer in each game of its current three-game win streak. URI has the better offense recently, ranking second in the conference at 78.3 points per game and third in three-point percentage at 38 percent. Matthews is sixth in A-10 games in scoring, averaging 16.7 points.
“It’s gonna be a great test: can we keep them in front of us, can we contest threes, can we block them out?” Schmidt said. “They were picked in the preseason first or second for a reason. They’re a talented team, it’s gonna be a great challenge.”
Junior forward Idris Taqqee believes there is added importance to the road matchup with a Rams team just one game behind SBU in the A-10 standings. Both squads are vying for one of the top four slots in the league and a double-bye in the A-10 Tournament.
“Yeah, it does increase the intensity,” Taqqee said. “That’s something that we look forward to, though; it’s the hype that we look forward to. You can only be happy for it, because I feel like it’s gonna be a good game on the road for us, so the hype that it is, I think we’re prepared for it.”
Rhode Island’s loss to La Salle was its lone home defeat thus far. Bona has compiled a 3-1 record in true road games.
“I think right now it’s just momentum,” Taqqee said of the away success. “I think we’re handling momentum well on the road.”
To get their third road win of A-10 play, SBU has to continue to ride the momentum and play an “A” game.
“Yeah, it’s gonna be just like every other Atlantic 10 game,” Schmidt said. “It’s gonna be highly contested, it’s gonna be physical, we have to play well to win.”