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Bonnies face toughest early-season test vs. FAU

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By Chuck Pollock, Sun Senior Sports Columnist

So here we are, nine games into the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball season … where do the Bonnies stand?

There was that uneasy moment in Game 2 when they fell, 70-67, to Little Three nemesis, Canisius, at the Reilly Center, of all places.

The “uh-ohs” were almost palpable.

But it was temporary.

Next up was the Legends Classic at Brooklyn where coach Mark Schmidt’s crew gutted out a 66-64 victory over favored Oklahoma State, then fell to Auburn, 77-60, in the finals, a team that it was not equipped to beat at that point in the season.

However, since then it’s been five straight victories against, admittedly, substandard opponents.

Still, in beating Miami of Ohio (257), Bucknell (269), Niagara (339), Buffalo (357) and Siena (361) in the 362-team NET rankings, Bona (7-2) has risen to No. 71 nationally thanks to their current five-game win streak despite all of those victories being against Quad 3 and 4 opposition, the lowest rewarded groups in the NET.

The Bonnies moved up this week, while the three Atlantic 10 teams ahead of them came back a bit: Dayton (45), George Mason (61) and Saint Joseph’s (62).

NOW COMES the real test.

Saturday afternoon in Springfield, Mass., the Bonnies play No. 15-ranked Florida Atlantic (8-2) at the Basketball of Fame Classic (4 o’clock, ESPNU-TV). The Owls, whose losses have come to Bryant and Illinois, have won six of their last seven,and  are favored at the Mass Mutual Center.

Thus, this is the Bonnies’ chance to enhance their perception on a national level.

“It’s hard to go back,” Schmidt said of the current streak. “Against Bucknell we didn’t play great, but Miami of Ohio we played really, really well, against Buffalo we did, not for the first five minutes or the last few but we played a great 25 minutes in between and I thought we played extremely well the last two games (Niagara and Siena).”

Indeed, after Bucknell, Bona won the next four games by an average of 28 points. But even more impressive over that span has been their shooting. Schmidt’s crew is hitting 56% from the field and an absolutely unconscious 47% on three-pointers which translates to a gaudy 88 points per game.

And the chief architect of that accuracy is graduate student Mike Adams-Woods, the transfer guard from Cincinnati, whose numbers the previous two games defy imagination. He’s made 19 straight field goals, including all nine treys. He went 9-for-9 against Siena, the first time a Bona player has done that since Peter van Paassen in 2000. Besides the 48 points in those two games, he added seven assists and five boards. That performance earned him both the Atlantic 10  and the United States Basketball Writers Association  Player of the Week citation, the latter nationally.

HOWEVER, Schmidt pointed out, “We’re still not there. I might be a little bit picky, but there’s so much more room for improvement … individually and as a team. There’s things we’ve got to get better at and we’re going to play much better teams with legitimate guys, starting Saturday.

But he also pointed out he hasn’t relaxed during the current four one-sided victories heading into FAU.

“I’ve coached a lot of years and most of them you’re sweating,” Schmidt said. “It’s never easy. Even when you’re up by 20 at halftime, you’re always thinking the worst.” 

This season, he has a pretty set starting lineup — Adams-Woods, post player Chad Venning, guard Daryl Banks and forward Assa Essamvous (formerly known as Yann Farrel) — the fifth starter, guard Charles Pride, has missed three games due to an ankle injury, his place taken by Barry Evans.

However, the Bonnies have made extensive use of their bench with nine players averaging at least 15 minutes a game with guards Kyrell Luc and Moses Flowers in that mix as well as center Noel Brown.

Besides Adams-Woods, five other players are also transfers: Pride (Bryant), Brown (George Washington), Banks (St. Peter’s), Venning (Morgan State) and Luc (Holy Cross).

NY Land Quest congratulates all student athletes

Looking ahead to the upcoming A-10 schedule, which begins Jan. 3 at Virginia Commonwealth, Schmidt said, “that’s why we play Oklahoma State, Auburn, now  FAU and later at Akron. The Atlantic 10 Conference is the most important and we try to get ourselves prepared for those games because every one of them is going to be a dogfight. To be able to play Oklahoma State in a close game and beat them teaches our guys how to finish. And those two games (including Auburn) get us ready for FAU … it’s not like we’re going in and that’s the first Top 20 team we’re going to play that has high-major players, our guys aren’t going to be intimidated by that.”

(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@wnynet.net.)

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