(Photo Credit: GoBonnies.com)
By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
Jaylen Adams clearly understood the importance of Wednesday night’s meeting with La Salle at the Reilly Center.
Adams termed the game as a “must-win,” and it’s hard to argue with him. The Bonnies are currently tied with the Explorers at 7-5 in the Atlantic 10. The winner is tied with at least George Mason, which won over Richmond Tuesday night, for fifth in the standings. The loser will be a full two games behind fourth place if Rhode Island takes care of business at home against Fordham, with just five games left.
Bona doesn’t hold any tiebreakers against the current top four of VCU, Dayton, Richmond and Rhode Island, so there’s a very small window for slip-ups if it hopes to earn a double-bye and Friday start in the A-10 Tournament in Pittsburgh. It holds head-to-head tiebreakers over six of the other nine teams, so beating a La Salle team it only plays once in the regular season would be a lucky seventh.
“I feel like you have to approach every game like it’s the most important game,” Adams said. “Being that this is a home game and so far this season we’ve struggled at home, I think this is a big one.”
The Bonnies have trailed at halftime in five of their last six home games and their last six first halves overall. They have already lost more games at the Reilly Center (four) than they did in 2015-16 (three).
With three more home games left and difficult road matchups at Dayton and Davidson coming up, there’s no better time for the Bonnies to figure it out in the friendly confines.
To get it rolling, Adams and his teammates need to continue playing tough defense, as they are facing the second-highest scoring offense in the A-10. La Salle’s season average of 78.1 points per game is just .3 less than Bona’s, and though both offenses have cooled from averaging over 80 points in non-conference play, they still have the ability to go off at any time.
Three of the Explorers’ six leading scorers are transfers from high-major programs. The most well-known to New York basketball fans is 6-foot-7 forward B.J. Johnson, who transferred from Syracuse. Johnson, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, is sixth in the league with 18.2 points per game and 11th in boards with 6.3.
The other two high-major transfers coach John Giannini brought in this year are Demetrius Henry, who came to Philly from South Carolina, and Pookie Powell, who came from Memphis.
Henry plays 18 minutes a game while Johnson and Powell average over 30, but the 6-foot-9 forward/center has the best shooting percentage on the team, making 62 percent of his attempts from the field. Powell, a 6-foot guard, missed the last six games with a knee injury but is expected to make his return. He’s third on the team in scoring (13.4 ppg), second in assists (3.6 per game) and third in rebounding (4.2 per game).
Those reinforcements were a welcome sight for guard Jordan Price, who has gladly traded a couple points a game for three more A-10 wins already. The 6-foot-5 Decatur, Ga. native, who was an SEC transfer himself after spending the 2012-13 season at Auburn, is also second on the team in rebounding (4.3 rpg) and third in assists (2.6 apg).
La Salle and Bonaventure also met in the 13th game of last season’s league slate. At that point, the Explorers were 1-12 in the A-10 and Dayton, of all teams, was its lone victim. No. 13 was an unlucky one for SBU, which was thoroughly outplayed by Giannini’s squad in a 71-64 defeat. At the time, it looked like Bonaventure’s chances at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament were on life support; little did the Bona faithful know, an upset over Dayton was in store that Saturday.
From A-10 spoiler to top-half team, La Salle has made an impressive turnaround thanks primarily to Giannini’s recruiting.
“They’re a lot like us,” Adams noted. “They score the ball well, they’re an offensive-minded team. So we’ve gotta come out in attack mode and we’ve gotta be ready to defend.
“It’s crunch time, so it’s time to lock in.”
Adams struggled offensively for all but a three-minute stretch in last Saturday’s 76-70 loss to George Washington, scoring 14 of his 19 points from the foul line. In the last five games, he is 22-of-76 from the floor and has made just 10 of his last 41 three-point attempts.
Whether Adams’s five-game slump is due to wear and tear (he has played 199 of the 205 possible minutes in those games) or shots simply not falling, he knows he can figure it out.
“I think we’re missing shots early on. Missing shots is just a part of the game, honestly,” he said. “If those were dropping I think the game would look a lot differently and we wouldn’t have some of the complaints that we have right now, so we need to shoot the ball a little better.
“Specifically in conference, you get scouted better; teams know you, coaches know you. They have a tendency to do a better job with just scouting your weaknesses and kind of just making you play to those. But honestly, I think if we can come out and hit shots, it’s not much you can do when we’re hitting shots. We’ve just gotta come out and knock down early on.”
Bona has alternated wins and losses over the last five games and has only played great in one (VCU).
“They’re good teams and you’re gonna have some lulls,” Schmidt said. “You’re not gonna play great all the time. We’ve gotta play hard, and I think we play hard. We just don’t play well all the time, but we’re in the Atlantic 10. It’s a great conference, good players, they’re gameplanning just like we’re gameplanning.
“It’s the adjustments you make throughout the game, and we don’t put the ball in the basket all the time but that’s not because we’re getting open looks and missing; there’s defense being played, as well.”