PREVIEW: Bona seeks season sweep of VCU in battle for first place

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By Peter Byrne

RICHMOND, VA — “We need to play better than we did in game one if we want to win again.”

Following an 86-73 victory over La Salle on Tuesday, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team will travel to Richmond, Virginia for a matchup against the VCU Rams.

Friday night will be the second matchup between the Bonnies and Rams this season. They met at the Reilly Center just under a month ago, with the Bonnies earning a 70-54 victory.

However, the 16-point victory did not come as easily as the final score might show. After falling behind 40-25 in the first half, the Bonnies responded with an incredible second half. With tenacious defense and hot shooting, the Bonnies outscored the VCU 45-14 in the second half and ran away with the hard-earned victory.

Head coach Mark Schmidt acknowledged the slow start from their last encounter.

“We cannot get off to a bad start again,” Schmidt said. “They have momentum. They have won their last four games.”

Another bad start could the Bonnies in a serious hole, especially against a hungry VCU team which has not lost since they played SBU. 

The last time the Bonnies played at the Siegel Center, they were embarrassed. They trailed at the half by 28 points and lost by the same margin.

The good news for this year? Only 250 specters will be allowed in the arena. Like the Reilly Center, VCU’s home atmosphere is amongst the top in the conference, and even the country.

“Home court still matters but not nearly as much,” Schmidt said. “It is a disadvantage to not have fans, just like it is at the Reilly Center.”

The lack of a raucous crowd should help the Bonnies try to break VCU’s notorious full-court pressure.

“It’s hard to simulate their pressure in practice,” Schmidt said. “One of the keys to the game will not be giving up live-ball turnovers that lead to points.”

The Bonnies committed 15 turnovers in their win over the Rams, but only four of those came in the second half. Protecting the ball will be paramount on Friday night.

Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland, VCU’s leading scorer, scoring 16 points against the Bonnies the first time around. Bona countered with three double-digit scorers, as Dominick Welch led the way with 19 points.

Friday’s game may be St. Bonaventure’s biggest of the season thus far. First place in the Atlantic 10 standings is at stake, as the Bonnies (10-2, 8-2 A-10) lead the Rams (14-4, 7-2 A-10) by half a game in the conference.

As for the NCAA Tournament implications, the Bonnies have a tremendous chance to earn another signature road win and sweep the #2 team in the conference. The NCAA’s NET rankings have VCU at #36 and SBU at #38, so a win would give the Bonnies a Quadrant one victory and would move them back into the low 30s.

Many people have been asking for St. Bonaventure to prove it belongs. The Bonnies have a shot to do that in front of a national television audience on ESPN2 Friday night.

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