ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — The caveat, of course, is that it’s only played two home games so far.
But at 0-2, and with 18 days having elapsed since its last contest there, this is the furthest the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team has traversed into November without a Reilly Center victory since 2004.
Back home after a regressive showing against Canisius and a second-consecutive 1-4 start, the Bonnies are once again desperate for a win.
They need one to help wash out the bad taste that came with being outworked by their oldest rival — and laying another egg offensively — in Saturday’s 61-57 loss to the Golden Griffins. They need it to both give the RC faithful its first taste of a live triumph and to avoid just their second three-game home losing streak of the last five years.
A young team still clearly finding its way, they need it to reestablish some momentum in another trying opening month.
The opportunity to do those things comes tonight when Bona hosts Mercer (7 o’clock, WPIG-FM, WHDL-AM, ESPN+-live stream) in what serves as its home game of the Boca Raton Beach Classic, which continues with a two-game tournament this Sunday and Monday in Florida.
But don’t call it gut-check time just yet.
“It’s the next game,” coach Mark Schmidt said. “We want to try to improve on what we haven’t done in the first five games, but it isn’t time to panic or approach things any differently than how we’ve always done it.
“We’ve experienced this before. We’ve done some good things so far, but we have to continue to work at what we haven’t done well, and hopefully we can make some progress tonight against a good opponent.”
After an apparent breakout game against Rutgers, the Bonnies once again struggled to score Saturday at KeyBank Center. Three weeks into the season, they rank last in the Atlantic 10 in both field goal percentage (.386) and 3-point percentage (.282) and second-to-last in points per game (62.8).
But their outing against Canisius wasn’t so much a case of missed shots as it was another emerging flaw: their ineffectiveness on the glass. That led to Bona having just three assists, all from Kyle Lofton, its lowest total in recent memory.
“It wasn’t offense,” said Schmidt, whose team was handled on the boards, 40-24. “We couldn’t rebound. We were taking the ball out of the net, we couldn’t get any easy baskets. From an offensive standpoint, you get a lot of assists when you’re in the open court and you’re driving and kicking; we couldn’t do that because we couldn’t rebound the ball. That was the biggest negative takeaway from Saturday.”
And now, aside from scoring, Bona has another component on which it needs to greatly improve going forward — it also ranks No. 12 (of 14) teams in total rebounding (33.2 per game). A big help in this area would be the return of preseason all-conference center Osun Osunniyi, who is reportedly ahead of schedule as he rehabs an opening-night knee injury and could return as early as this weekend in Florida.
“Other than ‘Shoon, we don’t have guys that can just go get it,” Schmidt pointed out. “We’ve got guys … we have to do all our work on the ground. ‘Shoon’s probably the only guy that can work in the air. And so all that’s positioning, that’s making sure we’re blocking out. That’s really it, that’s what we have to do a better job of.”
Facing a Mercer team that’s been both averaging and allowing 80 points per game, Bona figures to both have its work cut out defensively and an opportunity to get going on offense.
Despite their lower-conference stature, however, the Bears (4-2), of the Southern Conference, are no pushover. At No. 192, they rank just behind Ohio (186) in the current KenPom projection and ahead of both Siena (200) and Canisius (284), all teams that have gotten the better of Bona.
Early on, Mercer boasts one of the country’s most productive players in Ethan Stair, a 6-foot-4 guard who currently ranks tied for 27th nationally in scoring (21.3 points) and tied for 29th in rebounding (10.0). The Bears also have another big time scorer in guard Djordje Dimitrijevic (17 points) and two other double-digit guys in James Glisson III (10 points) and Ross Cummings (11.7 points), a preseason all-Southern selection who hit 101 3-pointers — second-most in school history — a year ago.
Behind them, the Bears, who own Division I wins over Kennesaw State (74-62), Florida Gulf Coast (84-68) and Illinois-Chicago (72-68), but did get handled by St. John’s, 109-79, currently rank No. 33 in the nation in 3-point percentage (39.7).
“They’re a good offensive team, so it’s a challenge,” Schmidt said of the Bears, under the direction of first-year coach Greg Gary, who spent the last eight seasons as an assistant at Purdue. “They’re averaging eight 3-pointers a game, they have a handful of guys that can shoot and they have a good big guy inside.
“We need to do a good job of closing out and not allowing them to get past us to where they can drive and kick for open looks. They shoot a high percentage from 3s, so that’s where they’ll get you.”
Of slowing down Stair, he added: “We have to try to make it difficult for him, but it’s not just Stair. They have good, veteran guards. You win with good guards, and that’s what they have.”