By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
In a little over a month, this trip to Pittsburgh will decide the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team’s fate.
If the Bonnies go on a run at the Atlantic 10 Tournament and have an undefeated second weekend of March, they’ll be going to the big dance, the NCAA Tournament. To do so, they’ll need three or four wins in PPG Paints Arena, the home of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Tonight, however, Bona is only focused on the game it’s playing a four-minute walk away from PPG- a matchup with Duquesne at 8 in the Palumbo Center.
Duquesne, like the St. Joseph’s team Bonaventure played just two games ago, are a team in transition. Derrick Colter and Micah Mason graduated, while L.G. Gill transferred to Maryland; those three made up 58 percent of the 2015-16 team’s scoring.
The Dukes registered a 2-2 start to A-10 play, with wins over Fordham and Saint Louis. Since then, they’ve lost five straight games, four of them by double-digits.
The youth movement is almost complete for coach Jim Ferry’s team. Freshmen Mike Lewis II and Isiaha Mike are both averaging double-figure points (12.9 and 10.9, respectively).
“Lewis and Mike are really good players,” said Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt. “They’ve got the green light, they put up numbers, they’re athletic, they’re not intimidated. They’re good players that are gonna be hard to guard.”
Graduate student Emile Blackman is the veteran of the squad and a player SBU is familiar with after playing him twice when he was with Niagara. Last year’s game was a good representation of Blackman’s skills, as he dropped 19 points and grabbed four rebounds in the 14-point Bonaventure victory. In 2014, he scored just two points and committed six turnovers at the Big 4 Classic.
In conference games, Duquesne ranks a fraction of a point better than Bonaventure in points per game, but has allowed about 81 points a game, worst in the league.
Wednesday will mark the 117th meeting between the two teams, and three of the ten highest-scoring games in the rivalry’s history have come in the Schmidt Era. At least one team has scored 80 or more points in five of the last six contests.
Signs point to a possible shootout, but senior forward Denzel Gregg said that isn’t ideal.
“I don’t want it to be a shootout at all,” Gregg said. “I wanna go up there and lock up and play defense and keep them under 60 points. Hopefully it’s not a shootout, hopefully we can defend. Hopefully we’re scoring the ball well but hopefully we’ll defend and keep them under 60.”
After last Saturday’s loss at Rhode Island, Duquesne serves as a bounce-back game for the Bonnies.
SBU has fared well after defeats, losing back-to-back games just once (Florida, Little Rock) this season. In fact, in the five wins following a loss, it has won by an average margin of 17 points.
“You definitely don’t wanna lose, and when you lose you don’t wanna lose two in a row,” Gregg said. “That’s always a goal and you’ve just gotta bounce back; that’s part of playing college sports, the ability to bounce back.
“You’ve just gotta take it one game at a time,” Schmidt said. “You can’t worry about what happened last game; win or lose, it’s a whole different ballgame. Looking back, you’re gonna have some major problems, so hopefully we can go down to Duquesne and play well. It’s on the road… you wish you had a home game, but it is what it is.
“We’ve got character guys and we’ve bounced back in the past, hopefully we can bounce back again.”
Bonaventure is 13-9 in conference road games since 2015 league play. Every game away from the Reilly Center has added difficulty to it, but Schmidt and his staff have been prepared for those tests.
“On the road, it’s harder, and in order to compete in this league you have to protect your home court and steal some on the road,” Schmidt said.
“We’ve stolen a couple on the road, and hopefully we can steal a couple more.”