By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
When the end of the regular season is coming up, winning out is always the goal for any team.
For the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team, however, there’s some added motivation to win the three remaining games before the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Running the table would not only supply a copious amount of momentum going into Pittsburgh, it would also make history.
If the Bonnies (17-10, 9-6) win Saturday’s Homecoming game against Duquesne, Wednesday’s game at Davidson and next Saturday’s regular season finale against UMass, they will become the first team in program history to win at least 20 regular season games in back-to-back seasons.
“We’re trying to make history,” remarked junior guard Matt Mobley, who said the coaching staff told the team about the opportunity.
Accomplishing such a feat was tougher in previous eras, when seasons were shorter and the task of reaching 20 victories before postseason play was more difficult. But regardless, 20 wins is a valued benchmark of a successful team, and history is history.
Davidson figures to be the biggest roadblock in Bona’s way, but no one’s looking ahead. After all, Duquesne (10-18, 3-12) did have a 34-33 lead at halftime of the first meeting on Feb. 1, forcing SBU to earn a 71-64 win.
Since that game at the Palumbo Center, the Dukes are 1-4, the lone win coming against a UMass team that is also in the bottom four of the A-10 standings. Their last game was an 18-point loss to Fordham on Feb. 22; the Rams outscored them 38-26 in the second half.
Duquesne’s guards accounted for most of their scoring in the first matchup, as Mike Lewis II, Emile Blackman and Rene Castro combined for 46 points. Bonaventure committed 16 turnovers, including five from Jaylen Adams and three from Matt Mobley.
Bona is above-average protecting the basketball this year (12.6 turnovers per game) but has 16 or more giveaways in three A-10 games this year, each against teams in the lower half of the standings: Duquesne, Fordham and St. Joe’s.
“We turned the ball over too many times and we didn’t run good offense,” Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt recalled of the first meeting. “And part of shooting 1-for-13 (from three-point range), we didn’t execute offensively.”
Lewis II still leads the team in scoring, with just under 16 points a game in conference games. Blackman and Isiaha Mike have improved their scoring production in league play, averaging 13.4 points and 11.3 points, respectively.
“They have really good players, some veteran guys, some young guys,” Schmidt said. “They’re really explosive, so we’ve gotta try to keep the ball in front of us as much as we can, and get to their shooters.”
Saturday’s contest will also have all-time series ramifications. The Dukes haven’t been contenders in years, but they still hold a 59-58 edge in the 117-game history between the two schools. SBU has caught up thanks to eight straight wins at the Reilly Center.
“Our guys aren’t caught up in records,” Schmidt said of Duquesne’s sub-.500 mark. “They understand that we have three games left and we’re trying to win all three, but we can’t win all three until we win the first one. Duquesne gave us trouble down there and we’re expecting a hard, tough game and a game that we have to play well in order for us to be successful.”
While the commitment and willingness to succeed is there, the Bonnies haven’t been bound by pressure. Before the Joe’s game, they were as loose and undeterred as can be in warmups, going through layup lines with a swagger to their step. You can expect the same thing Saturday afternoon in front of their many generations of fans.
“This is fun,” Schmidt said. “If we were 0-25 it would be pressure. This is fun, the kids are putting themselves in a situation to make these kinds of games important. That’s what they’ve worked for and that’s what they expect. This is what you play for.”