photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu
By Nic Gelyon
ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — “We’re not going to go undefeated.”
Some will say the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team’s 70-59 loss to Saint Louis on Saturday was a fall from grace. Head coach Mark Schmidt might call it a learning moment.
“We knew there was going to be some losses,” Schmidt said on Monday. “So now it’s how you react to that loss.”
The Bonnies will host La Salle (8-11) on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Reilly Center. This game was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but with the Bonnies traveling to VCU on Friday, it was pushed forward one day.
Despite the loss to SLU, the Bonnies still sit 40th in the NCAA’s NET rankings, the Atlantic 10’s highest-ranked team. Bona currently sits at 7-2 in league play, a half-game ahead of VCU, Davidson and UMass, which are each 6-2.
“I don’t even know who’s behind us,” said Schmidt. “We just have to take care of ourselves. We don’t look ahead; we don’t really care about what other people do behind us, in front of us.”
It’s on to La Salle for the Bonnies. The Explorers are coming off a disappointing 76-68 loss against Fordham (2-9) on Saturday, days after defeating Saint Louis.
La Salle was forced to use its starters more than usual while playing from behind the Rams, playing mostly a seven-man rotation. Sophomore guard Christian Ray had 18 points while making his presence felt on the boards with nine rebounds.
La Salle has had an up-and-down season, to say the least. The Explorers lost by 17 points to St. John’s, by 19 to UMass and by 33 to George Mason, and started their season 0-3 on the non-conference circuit.
In the same breath, they’ve beaten Saint Louis, Richmond, and Dayton, three of the best teams in the A-10. Overall, they’re 5-7 in the A-10.
Against Saint Louis, the Bonnies’ lack of depth was a concern. With multiple players leaving the program mid-season, the Bonnies have been left with an eight-man rotation, six of whom are reliable producers.
This has created a stark difference between these teams. While St. Bonaventure’s entire starting five averages over 30 minutes a game, La Salle doesn’t have a single player who averages that many.
Quite the opposite, in fact: nine players average over 15 minutes for La Salle this season.
It’s undeniable that SBU was trotting out legs that had played every minute of the game against Saint Louis against legs fresh off the Billikens’ bench. That’s usually not a successful combination when down late.
Redshirt sophomore guard Jack Clark has emerged as La Salle’s volume shooter, hitting over 50% from the field and 31% from 3-point range, all while taking more shots than anyone else on his team. He also averages five rebounds and an assist.
What could be scary for the Bonnies: Clark’s 31% is the lowest 3-point percentage of any of La Salle’s starters.
The Explorers’ offensive philosophy is what makes them different than other teams the Bonnies have faced this year. Their versatility both in the post and from the perimeter—much like Saint Louis—opens up their offense for players like Clark, senior Scott Spencer and junior Clifton Moore to work.
“La Salle does it a little bit differently,” Schmidt said. “They space you out 4-on-1 and they drive it. They create rotations, they create help situations, and they can drive and kick. And then those guys are stepping into their shots.”
To guard against this attack, Schmidt says his team needs to do better keeping the ball in front of them.
“You have to be able to guard them, they’re all very good off-the-bounce guys,” Schmidt said. “You can’t give them live-ball turnovers. We have to keep the ball in front of us. If we can do that, then we have a better chance of having to contest those threes.”
Where La Salle’s depth could come into play is in its ability to match its starters’ production. St. Bonaventure’s remaining bench pieces may not have that ability.
“Those guys coming off the bench have to give us production,” Schmidt said. “But production’s not necessarily points all the time. I think those guys, maybe yesterday against Saint Louis was magnified.”
When asked if fatigue played a role in the Bonnies’ late-game defeat, Schmidt instead attributed Saint Louis’ 9-0 run to bad decision-making and some general misfortune.
“I don’t know if it was a collapse,” Schmidt said of the loss. “We missed some shots, we had some turnovers, we had some breakdowns… We just have to fix those things, where we don’t make the right play or the right decision.”