By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
The St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team’s last game at University of Dayton Arena doesn’t seem all that long ago.
The Bonnies came into that Feb. 20, 2016 contest having just suffered their worst loss of the season to that point, against a La Salle squad that had one Atlantic 10 win. Bona followed with its best victory of the year, defeating the Flyers 79-72 and resurrecting its NCAA Tournament chances. Jaylen Adams was the star, scoring 31 points and the go-ahead three-pointer with 36 seconds left.
Each school’s 2015-16 team was better than its current squad. In a more nationally-competitive Atlantic 10, Dayton was ranked No. 15 in the Associated Press Top 25 entering the game, while Bonaventure was a game better in conference (9-4).
Despite the matchup not being of the same caliber, it has a similar level of importance. With VCU beating Richmond Friday night, UD (20-5, 11-2) needs a win to stay tied atop the A-10 standings. If Bona wins and George Mason beats Rhode Island, Bona (16-9, 8-5) will hold fourth place and be in the driver’s seat for a double-bye in the A-10 Tournament with four games left.
The first meeting between the teams this year was all Dayton on Jan. 3. The Flyers used a scorching 14-of-23 mark from three-point range and 55-43 second half to grab a 90-74 victory despite leading scorer Charles Cooke being inactive. Three UD players made three three-pointers each, including Kendall Pollard, who has made just one triple in nine attempts since.
The Bonnies and Flyers have each played 11 games since that game in the Reilly Center. SBU’s defense has improved by leaps and bounds; Dayton, Rhode Island and VCU are the only teams to allow fewer points per game. Dayton and VCU are the only teams to have a top four offense and defense in conference games.
“We understand that we’ve gotta defend,” Adams said. “That’s something we’ve gotta do night in and night out to get wins in the A-10, period, but when you’re playing a team like Dayton it’s something that you’ve really gotta focus on. They move the ball really well, so I think we’ve gotta do a good job keeping them out of the lane and just preventing the extra pass. If we can keep them in front, then there really is no extra pass.”
As the overall leading scorer on the best team in the A-10, Cooke has a great chance to make the all-conference first team, which he made in the preseason. Despite averaging one fewer point than Pollard in league play and missing two games, he is shooting 45 percent, 46 percent from three.
This is the last guaranteed game between the Bonnies and Cooke, Kyle Davis, Pollard and Scoochie Smith, all seniors. The group recently broke the school record for wins by a senior class with 98, six of which came against Bona.
“He’s a great point guard,” Adams said of Smith. “I love to compete, so playing against guys like that, it just gives me more energy, personally to just go out and be ready. But they’re a good team, so it’s about all five of us.”
A Bonnies win on Saturday would be their best win of the season. Dayton was No. 33 in the KenPom college basketball rankings as of Saturday morning; the highest-rated team SBU beat, thanks to the VCU fiasco, was No. 109 George Mason.
“We’ve gotta be on top of everything,” Adams said. “It’s hard to win over in UD, so we’ve gotta go in there on our “A” game, sticking open shots, defending pretty well. I think that’ll at least give us a chance.”
Adams is one of four current Bonnies who played in last year’s contest, along with Denzel Gregg, Idris Taqqee and Nelson Kaputo. That experience will come in handy in front of 13,455 fans, most of which will be decked in red and looking for some revenge.
“We’ve got a lot of new pieces, at the same time, from last year,” Adams acknowledged. “It’s a bunch of guys who haven’t been there, so my advice to them is this building gets loud. Stay together; it gets loud in there, but when it does, stay together, stay composed. If we play our game, don’t let them speed up and we should be fine.”
“It’s a tough place to play, but I’d rather have won there than not,” Schmidt said.
One of the reasons last year’s upset was so remarkable for the brown and white was how poorly they had played the previous game. Marcus Posley’s postgame interview session that night in Philadelphia was telling, as the now-NBA D-League player spoke softly in the hallway outside the visitor’s locker room and said how upset he was that his team couldn’t take care of business.
This year, the Bonnies blew the Explorers out of the water, in what could have been a 30-point win had La Salle not gone on a run in the waning minutes.
Adams absolutely believed in the momentum that game could bring Bonaventure.
“I think it’s big-time,” he said. “(Denzel) played well last game, so that’s definitely a big boost. We’re shooting the ball better and we’re defending better, and I think that’s more than last year. Just half of that is more than last year, coming off the loss, so I think we’re going in with the right mindset.
“I think (a win would give us) the same type of boost as last year. Around this time of year, this is when teams start playing their best basketball, so it’s time to be in desperation mode.
“We’ve gotta be active out there. I’m excited, hope we can get it done.”