ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — Reilly Center would have been bedlam … indeed it should have been.

Instead, its 5,480 seats sat empty, as they have been all season, thanks to the nationwide disruption caused by Covid-19.

But, oh, there would have been plenty to celebrate Sunday afternoon.

The St. Bonaventure basketball team had just dispatched Davidson, 69-58, in a critical Atlantic 10 conference matchup, that made the Bonnies 8-0 on their home floor in front of zero fans.

As a result, the Bonnies (11-3, 9-3 A-10) are tied for the A-10 lead with Virginia Commonwealth (16-5, 9-3), with which they split.

But, in this bizarre season, Bona’s performance in the conference is crucial.

Through no fault of its own, St. Bonaventure’s hopes for this season were dramatically narrowed by the pandemic.

The Bonnies lost nine of their 11 non-conference games to the coronavirus, leaving them with a 2-0 record heading into an 18-game constantly-adjusted A-10 slate that will have them three games short of a full conference season.

Heading into the campaign’s final stretch -- the Atlantic 10 scratched this season’s original slate-ending week and moved the men’s tournament a week ahead of the women’s -- the Bonnies have played a mere 14 games, only A-10 foes George Washington and Fordham (13 each) have had fewer.

Thus, the Bonnies’ hopes of earning an NCAA Tournament at-large berth depends upon how it performs in the conference.

To be sure, there’s the automatic bid that goes to the Atlantic 10 tournament champion but, failing that, Bona, one of six teams that could win the event, has to compile an impressive-enough resume to make the NCAAs without strong non-conference help even with A-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade on the selection committee.

And Bonnies’ coach Mark Schmidt, who was not about to lay the blame for his team’s lack of a non-conference credibility, is pragmatic.

AFTER SUNDAY’S victory, he admitted, “We’re not looking at we only played two non-conference games. All we do is look at our schedule … what’s the next game? … and take care of that. We have three games left and they’re all really, really important.”

Particularly to the Bonnies.

In the conference’s final version of its schedule is a return visit to Davidson on Wednesday, a hosting of George Washington (4-9, 3-3) Friday afternoon and a home finale against Dayton (12-7, 8-6) next Monday evening.

“Our goal, when the season started, was to try to win an Atlantic 10 title,” Schmidt said. “All the other stuff, the (A-10) tournament, the at-large bids. will take care of themselves. You can’t get ahead of yourself.

“We had four games left and our goal was to be 1-0 at 5:30 (Sunday afternoon) and now it’s to be 2-0 Wednesday night (at Davidson). If you keep on looking ahead you’re going to get yourself in trouble. But we’re lucky, we have experienced guys and they understand that.”

Schmidt admitted of the closing schedule, “They’re all important, we only have three games left. You take it one game at a time.

“Our guys have put us in a position where these games are really important. Some teams in this country can’t wait until the season is over because they’re not playing for anything. Our guys have done a great job through the pandemic with the mental and physical stresses that everybody’s under and now we’ve got to try to finish it.”

Still, he has a “one game at a time” approach.

“We can’t worry about Dayton (Monday night) before we take care of Davidson again (Wednesday),” Schmidt said. “It’s trying to be tunnel-visioned and making sure we’re taking care of our business. We know they’re important, but these guys come to Bonaventure because they want to play in these games … these guys made them important.

“(Today’s) game wouldn’t be important if we were 2-9 (in the A-10). They’re important because we’ve had a good year up to this point. Any competitor … these are the games you want to play.”

He added, “ You don’t want to play in a game that doesn’t mean anything … ‘the season’s over, (but) we’ve got to play the last three games.’ That’s not what competition is all about. Our guys have put themselves in a great spot.

“The question is, ‘Can we finish?’ And we won’t finish (unsuccessfully) because of lack of effort or concentration … that won’t be the reason we don’t get where we want to go. Our guys are on top of it, they understand what’s at stake.”

(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@oleantimesherald.com)

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