ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — In some respects, this version of the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team possesses the same qualities as the many quality Bona squads that came before it.
These Bonnies’ defensive numbers have remained strong, ranking fourth in the A-10 in scoring defense (66.4 points) and second in 3-point percentage ‘D’ (.287). They take care of the ball, sitting third in turnover margin (plus-.90) and tied-for-fifth in giveaways per game (12.3). And though they, too, have struggled offensively, they’ve also been able to offset that at times with some big individual efforts.
Still, perhaps as much as any Bona team under Mark Schmidt, this group has been defined by its inconsistent nature. Hence, its record of 10-10 (4-3 league) entering tonight’s tilt with Fordham (7 o’clock, WPIG-FM, ESPN+-live stream) inside the Reilly Center.
ON THE surface, it’s easy to point to the offense as the single biggest reason for the Bonnies’ uneven play. Their scoring numbers simply haven’t been good enough to win with regularity at the Atlantic 10 level, ranking 14th of 15 teams in points per game (67.1) and 10th in field goal percentage (.425).
To Schmidt, however, the roots of those struggles run deeper than that. But with nearly six weeks still to play in the regular season, there’s time to get better before the stretch run, he maintained.
“We’re young, so we make young mistakes,” the 16th-year coach said. “And we make mistakes not once, but twice. Like the Loyola-Chicago game (a 67-55 loss last Saturday), the same play hurt us twice; we didn’t make that rotation. It’s one thing to get hurt the first time, but to get hurt the second time on the same play, that’s just inexperience.”
There are factors to improve upon beyond just the Xs and Os of the game, as well.
“Physically, you look at some of our bodies, they’re not where they need to be,” he acknowledged. “So we get beat up. Against Loyola, when we were driving the ball, they were knocking us out. They were physical, and that takes the weight room. I think maybe we get worn down a little bit as we go through the game.”
Addressing exactly what Bona needs to do over this final one-third of the season, he assessed: “Defensively, we gotta keep the ball in front of us better, we gotta contest at the rim better, we gotte have better rotations. Offensively, we gotta have better rhythm, we gotta get the ball inside, we gotta get the ball below the foul line.
“And sometimes we go, sometimes we look really good, and sometimes we look like we haven’t practiced, and that’s the inconsistency that we’re trying to improve on.”
THOUGH IT may be too early to label a game as “must win,” this is one Bona basically needs to get.
It’s at home, where the Bonnies are 9-1 this year and an A-10-best 30-4 over the last three seasons. It’s against a program that Schmidt-led teams have owned, having won 11-straight over the Rams and 17 of the last 18 dating back to 2010. And it comes just before perhaps its most treacherous three-game stretch in league play, beginning with road games at VCU and Richmond and concluding with a home contest vs. Dayton on Feb. 4.
But, much like last year, Bona isn’t taking on the same old hapless Fordham.
THE RAMS made a 14-win improvement last winter under Kyle Neptune, going 16-16 en route to an eighth-place league finish. And they’ve been able to maintain that positive momentum under first-year coach Keith Urgo, who replaced Neptune when the Jay Wright-protege took the Villanova job.
After going 12-1 against a soft non-conference schedule, the Rams (15-4, 3-3) dropped their first two games in league play. But they’ve since won three of four, are coming off a pair of road wins, over La Salle (66-64) and Duquesne (65-58), and again currently sit eighth in the conference standings.
Fordham does have a couple of key holdovers, most notably senior guard Darius Quisenberry, one of the A-10’s top scorers at 16 points, and backcourt mate Antrell Charlton (8 points, 4 assists). It also brought in fifth-year Georgia Tech transfer Khalid Moore (14 points, 7 rebounds).
But the Rams’ defining characteristic hasn’t changed from Neptune to Urgo.
“They play hard,” Schmidt said a handful of times.
“They play really hard, and that’s what they did last year,” he noted. “They play a little bit differently (now). They play triangle-and-twos, they play their big guy a little bit differently defensively. They do a few things differently, but the bottom line is they play hard and they’ve got good players, veteran players.”
MUCH LIKE in previous years, Fordham has struggled a bit offensively. Urgo’s team ranks last in conference play in scoring at 63 points per game. But it’s been able to mask those deficiencies by doing what Fordham teams do: it’s scrappy, pesky defensively and does a lot of other things well, such as block shots (over 5 per game) and get steals (over 7 per contest).
Last year, the Bonnies had no problem with an improving Fordham team, claiming the lone meeting inside the Reilly Center, 76-51. A year later, this one isn’t expected to be nearly as easy — Bona was just a 3 ½-point favorite as of Tuesday night. But again, at home, where they have a plus-9.3 scoring margin and are allowing just 62 points per game, with a difficult stretch on the horizon, this almost has to be a “get right” game for the Bonnies.
As Schmidt noted of the Rams, though: “They play physical. They play differently; sometimes they switch all the ball screens, even with the 5-man, they’ll trap ball screens, but they play really, really hard. They’re well-coached and they’ve got good players. If you put that combination together, you’re gonna have a good team.”