(Photo Credit: GoBonnies.com)
By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
The St. Bonaventure ticket office didn’t exactly have to twist any arms.
All 5,480 seats in the 50-year-old Reilly Center were sold by 2:30 on Friday, as the official Bonnies men’s basketball Twitter account proudly proclaimed. The student section is expected to be filled to the brim as well.
Because when Bonaventure hosts VCU at the Reilly Center on a Saturday afternoon, not much more needs to be said.
The Rams are one of the premier programs in the Atlantic 10 and are a game ahead of the Bonnies in the A-10 standings. When the teams met at the RC two years ago, the game was an instant classic, with Marcus Posley making the buzzer-beating layup to defeat a No. 18-ranked, Shaka Smart-coached team.
The atmosphere will be electric and the on-court action should be very competitive, with two top-five teams going at it.
The point guard matchup stands out right away as one of the battles to watch, as Will Wade’s Rams team may have the second-best one in the conference behind Jaylen Adams. JeQuan Lewis, a 6-foot-1, Dickson, Tn. native, leads the team in scoring and assisting with 14.5 points and 4.6 assists per game.
Justin Tillman is the other Ram averaging double-figure points, with 12.3. Tillman also leads the team in rebounding, with 7.7 per contest.
Despite having just two players averaging double-digit points and one averaging more than five rebounds, VCU is first in conference play in scoring offense (78.6 ppg) and rebounding margin (+6.2). While the Dayton Flyers have probably even copyrighted the “True Team” phrase by now, the Rams are a very skilled collective unit as well. The only stats they are below fifth in the league in are three-point shooting and free-throw percentage.
One of the most underrated players to watch is 6-foot-1 junior Jonathan Williams, the other half of the “All-Hair Team” with Tillman. As long as Williams is inside the arc (he is just 1-of-8 from three but 50.3 percent from the field) he and his locks are effective, with eight double-digit point games this year including four straight to kick off league play.
The paint could decide the game, as the Rams have All-Atlantic 10 player Mo Alie-Cox in the post. The 6-foot-7, 250-pound Cox will likely be playing on NFL Sundays after he graduates in May, but for now is tied for second in conference games in blocks with almost two a game. He also averages just under 10 points a game; he has only reached that 10-point threshold once against Bona.
“If the ball gets deep into the paint we’re gonna have major problems,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt said. “They’re big, they’re physical, they’re athletic. (If) the guards get into the paint, then our big guys have to help and now we give them lanes to the basket. Just like most teams, you’ve gotta keep the ball above the foul line. It’s paramount against VCU.”
While Schmidt dismissed any notion of the game having added importance, sticking to the status quo of calling it “one of 18” conference games, his players know better. For one, if VCU grabs the road win, nearly everyone around SBU in the standings will currently own the tie-breaker for A-10 Tournament seeding.
“I believe if we win we’re both gonna be 7-3, so that would put us in a great spot going forward and having another home game after that,” Matt Mobley said. “Every game is big… but this would be a great one, a very big win for us if we get it done.”
Like everyone else, junior tri-captain Idris Taqqee was primed for the sellout crowd, even at the expense of some shut-eye on Thursday.
“I can’t wait, I can’t wait,” Taqqee said. “I couldn’t sleep last night.”