ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — For once, the window was tight.
The St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team arrived home at about 7 p.m. from its Wednesday road win at Fordham. It then took the morning off, leaving it barely one full day to prepare for the Duquesne game, which was moved up a day in the interest of playing on national television.
Bona, though, is welcoming of a quick turnaround compared to what the alternative had been. After all, it’s had waits of 20, 11 and seven days between contests since the season officially began on Nov. 25.
Then, too, these are two mostly veteran teams, which split a pair of highly entertaining contests last season and were selected to finish fourth and fifth, respectively, in this year’s preseason poll. They know one another well. And that’s the nature of tonight’s Atlantic 10 Friday Night Showcase matchup with Duquesne (7 o’clock, ESPN2-TV, WPIG-FM, WHDL-AM) inside the Reilly Center.
“We walked through their stuff (Thursday), and I would assume that most of our guys that were here last year know exactly what Duquesne is about,” coach Mark Schmidt said. “They may need a little refresher, ‘this is what they run,’ but for the most part, they understand what they do.
“If we had a bunch of first-year guys and now one day to prepare and they run a zillion things, then it would be, ‘my gosh, we’re overwhelmed.’ (But) having a quick turnaround with a veteran team helps.”
BONA (5-1, 3-1), whatever the circumstances, has won three-straight and is off to its best start in six years.
It’ll now embark upon perhaps its toughest four-game swing of the season, which includes a home rematch with Richmond followed by road games at No. 24 Saint Louis and Davidson. And that starts with the Dukes (3-4, 2-3) — a familiar foe, though one that’s also in flux.
Duquesne still boasts the inside presence of senior forwards Marcus Weathers, an all-conference second team selection last year, and Michael Hughes, one of the most imposing big men in the league. It also has back spitfire guard Tavian Dunn-Martin, who scored a season-high 25 in the Bonnies’ 83-80 road win last winter.
In just the last week, however, it lost its entire starting backcourt, with third-year point guard Sincere Carry, a preseason third team choice, and Lamar Norman Jr., abruptly deciding to transfer and Maceo Austin taking a leave of absence, with the expectation of eventually returning.
In their absence, the Dukes barely got by Fordham (winning 48-45) and had a strong effort fall short at Dayton (72-63). Another A-10 team that had brought everybody back, they now seem to be transitioning on the fly.
But even without their veteran guards, the approach doesn’t change, Schmidt said.
“The approach is, we better play our A-game if we’re going to win,” he noted bluntly. “Hughes and Weathers, they’re loads. Dunn-Martin, like you saw last year, we couldn’t guard him. They’ve got a good team, they’re well-coached, they’ve got enough good players to give us problems. We don’t worry about who they don’t have … they’ve got enough good players to beat us.”
BONA HAS fared impressively well, both collectively and individually, in its 5-1 start. The one instance it didn’t was against a bigger, more physical Rhode Island team.
To Schmidt, the Dukes represent a similar type of challenge.
Weathers (6-5, 215) is averaging a team-best 14 points and six rebounds and coming off a 19 and 8 performance against the Flyers. Hughes (6-8, 240) was instrumental in Duquesne’s 81-77 overtime win in last year’s Reilly Center rematch, totaling 18 points, seven rebounds and three blocks (he had six rejections in the teams’ first meeting at Robert Morris).
Bona, of course, which essentially starts four guards and has just two players taller than 6-foot-5, isn’t the biggest or deepest team. It’s struggled in the past against hulking, shot-blocking centers.
The unique task in this one? To try match that physicality, hang with Duquesne on the boards (Bona has done well in that area, leading the A-10 in both rebounds and offensive rebounds per game and sitting third in rebounding margin) and do so while staying out of foul trouble.
“THEY’RE power team, they go inside-out,” Schmidt said. “One thing that we’ve been doing well is rebounding, but this is a physical team, very similar to Rhode Island, and we didn’t fare too well against Rhode Island physically.
“We’ll see if we pass that test tomorrow, but Hughes and Weathers are two of the better inside guys in our league, and they presented problems last year and they’ll present problems again (tonight).”
For Bona, it’s an opportunity to get back on track against its oldest A-10 rival -- it had won eight in a row and 11 and 12 against Duquesne before falling at home last February. And it’s the next chance to cement itself as a league championship contender … and on a national stage.
For Schmidt, it’s also another needed opportunity in this disjointed season to improve.
“We’ve only played six games, so we’ve got a long way to go,” Schmidt said, “and we have to improve in all areas. You saw it (against Fordham); some possessions we looked really good, some we looked really bad. We’ve got a lot of work to do. Individually, we do; as a team, we do. And we’ve got to get better.
“And that’s just the bottom line. If we want to compete for an Atlantic 10 title, we’re not nearly where we need to be in order for that to happen. (Tonight’s) going to be another test for us to see if we can improve on what we’ve in the first six games.”