(Photo Credit: GoBonnies.com)
By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
The tweets started to pour in, all with a similar theme or agenda.
“Leaving for Brooklyn in a half hour. Four spots left in my car. Come to the Plassmann/Murphy lot with gas money.”
St. Bonaventure guard Jordan Gathers had just made a buzzer-beating three-pointer to upset No. 1 seed Saint Louis in the 2014 Atlantic 10 Tournament at Barclays Center. The Bonnies, who had fallen to the No. 8 seed in the tourney after losing four straight games to close out the regular season, were going to Semifinal Saturday. And an ambivalent-turned-spontaneous SBU community was joining them.
Bona lost that semifinal game to a St. Joseph’s team that had two future NBA players on the roster in DeAndre’ Bembry and Langston Galloway. However, the Bonnies went on a mini-run that pleased the fans and masked the fact that they went 6-10 in A-10 regular season play that year.
In a tournament that has proven to be unpredictable, the Bonnies should be just fine with another underdog role this year, as the No. 5 seed.
Last year, Bonaventure was in the rare position of being the third seed and one of the favorites to earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Coach Mark Schmidt’s team played a strong game that Friday night, but lost to Davidson in overtime. Dayton, VCU and SBU were the three big favorites, but it was No. 4 St. Joe’s, which had lost three of its last five regular season games, that claimed the title on Sunday.
The No. 1 overall seed has won the Atlantic 10 Tournament twice since 2004. Over that time, three teams outside of the top four, without the benefit of a double-bye, won four straight to take the title: Xavier in 2004 (third West division), Xavier in 2006 (No. 10 seed) and VCU in 2015 (No. 5 seed).
In an unpredictable tournament, the Bonnies have three things every champion for the past nine years has had:
-A top five seed in the tournament
-An All-A-10 First Team player.
-A coach who has been to an NCAA Tournament before as a head or assistant coach.
Bona is, indeed, a dangerous team, with the best backcourt and highest-scoring offense overall in the conference.
“That’s more for the media and everything else,” senior Denzel Gregg said of his team being considered a dark horse or underdog. “We’ve just gotta play. It comes down to being on the court, Xs and Os, who’s prepared and who’s not.”
The media and fan-driven chatter doesn’t represent the views of the teams, especially the coaches and players who have to gameplan for Gregg, Jaylen Adams, Matt Mobley and the rest of the Bona squad.
Thursday’s opponent, whether it be St. Joe’s or UMass, will be hoping for its first win over SBU in two years. UMass has a four-game losing streak against Schmidt and co., while SJU’s skid is seven.
If the Bonnies dispatch the Hawks or Minutemen, they’ll face Rhode Island on Friday. The Rams are a tough matchup, with two fantastic big men in Kuran Iverson and Hassan Martin who combined for 32 in the Jan. 28 meeting in Kingston, R.I. Bonaventure trailed by as much as 15 in that game but Adams heated up with 14 second-half points and the Bonnies trailed by just three with 3:54 to play before eventually falling by 12 points.
Mobley made just one of his ten field goal attempts in that game. When he makes two or fewer field goals, Bona is 2-2. When he makes seven or more, Bona is 8-3 and should be 9-2 (he made 10 against VCU).
Rhody was 8-6 away from the Ryan Center this year. The Rams were 1-3 against the other three top teams in the top four of the standings. They’re a good team, currently on the NCAA Tournament bubble, but they are beatable.
“We can play with anyone in the A-10,” Amadi Ikpeze said. “There’s not a team in the A-10 we can’t beat if we play our ‘A’ game.”
As SBU’s All-A-10 First Team representative, Adams is one of the best players in the league, if not the best. The A-10 Tournament, however, has not produced a shining moment for the star yet. He was unable to participate his freshman year because of season-ending finger surgery. In last season’s loss to Davidson, he battled a noticeable back ailment and scored just three points on 1-of-10 shooting, matching the lowest scoring output of his career.
This year, a run at the title would mean a measure of redemption for the junior from Baltimore.
“I’ve got friends who’ve made it to the tourney and they just tell me it’s an unbelievable experience,” Adams said. “I’m excited and hopefully I can get there. That’s the team goal and it’s been the goal since day one. We’re excited.
“We’ve obviously gotta come out with extreme urgency. We’ve gotta come out ready to defend, we’ve gotta stick shots and we’ve just gotta play rough for four games. At this point really anybody can win, so for four games we’ve just gotta leave it all on the floor.”
Schmidt has won seven A-10 Tournament games in his Bonaventure tenure, with two Semifinal Saturday trips and the title in 2012. He’s seen the success of a well-executed run and the disappointment of an early exit.
“In order to be successful in any tournament format you’ve gotta play to win, you can’t play not to lose,” Schmidt said. “You’ve gotta play loose, you’ve gotta let it fly. You can’t play tight, you can’t think that if we lose the season’s over. You’ve just gotta play every possession and not worry about what’s at the end.
“Just play, and hopefully we can play well enough to win.”