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By Lacey Gardner

Bonnies’ Schmidt was right about Atlantic 10

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A column by CHUCK POLLOCK, Senior Sports Columnist (Steve Harrison photo)

Back in late December, after his St. Bonaventure basketball team had concluded a solid 9-3 non-conference slate, coach Mark Schmidt declared of the 18-game Atlantic 10 schedule: “Now the real season starts.”

He added, “Every league game is a challenge … a nail-biter and you’ve got to do all the little things to win.”

Indeed it sounded a bit like “coachspeak” as, in the 15-team conference, his Bonnies were predicted to finish third in the preseason poll.

But that subject touches a nerve with him.

“Throw those expectations out,” Schmidt said of the poll during a media accessibility early this week. “I know I don’t vote but those (polls) are always wrong.”

And, a mere four games into the conference schedule, it seems he’s right.

BONA, 11-5,  started the A-10 season beating No. 2 seed Virginia Commonwealth, 89-78, in the opener then, three days later, went across town and fell to Richmond, 65-54. That was followed by a concerning 80-74 loss to Fordham at the Reilly Center. Reportedly, after that defeat, when his team seemingly forgot how to play defense, Schmidt was furious. Then came Wednesday night at the RC, before 3,881 thoroughly-chilled but tremendously-excited observers, as the Bonnies hung a gotta-have-it 99-62 defeat on previous conference unbeaten Rhode Island.

And Bona’s start has given credence to Schmidt’s point about the conference.

The Bonnies and  VCU, picked third and second, respectively, are 2-2. Top-seed Dayton and 11th-seed Richmond are both 4-0 while Rhode Island, seeded 14th, was 3-0 and on a four-game win streak until  it ran into the Bona buzz saw. New A-10 member, Loyola of Chicago, an eighth seed, is 4-1

Duquesne, tabbed for fourth, is 0-4 while Saint Joseph’s and Saint Louis, voted fifth and sixth, respectively, are 1-3.

Clearly, the early conference schedule has something to do with those records, and barely 20% of it has been played, but you get the idea that the final standings won’t look much like what the preseason poll predicted.

AS SCHMIDT noted, “In the Atlantic 10, the intensity goes up 10-fold, 20-fold, 30-fold and you’ve gotta respond. I thought we did a good job at the VCU game and we had two games where we didn’t respond  (Richmond and Fordham)… it was difficult, we struggled offensively but our defense wasn’t there. But  (Wednesday night), we responded in the right manner. Every  (Atlantic 10) game you’re tested and if you don’t bring that energy you fail that test.”

Against Rhode Island, Bona didn’t.

“We could have played better, but I thought that was the best performance we’ve had in a long time,” Schmidt said. “We played consistently for 40 minutes. Our guys bounced back … they responded … they played with enthusiasm … they shared the ball. It was a great victory for us.”

He noted of the win over URI, “We defended, we took care of the ball. We had 29 points off (20 Ram) turnovers and we only turned the ball over six times. We kept the ball in front of us … they were shooting 48% (from the field) and 40% from threes during that streak when they won four straight … they were playing their (butts) off.” 

Looking back at the two straight losses, Schmidt assessed: “It’s the little things that hurt us. We had some breakdowns. We played well at times, but there was a stretch where, when we made a mistake, the other team made us pay.”

AND THERE was some peripheral good news for the Bonnies in the URI win.

Fans had started complaining that  Moses Flowers, the transfer from Hartford, should be starting at the shooting guard spot ahead of Daryl Banks III who was in a terrible shooting slump. The former St. Peter’s star averaged 15 points last season while shooting 36% from the field and 34% on treys.This year, his scoring average has dipped to under eight and, before Wednesday night, was shooting 29% from the field, 27% on threes.

Sure enough, against Rhode Island, Flowers got the start and that was the only motivation Banks needed. In 27 minutes he scored 14 points and logged seven assists hitting five of eight shots including a trio of treys.

And, oh yeah, center  Chad Venning broke his career record for blocks in a game. His previous best was four. Against the Rams he had six in a span of 12 minutes of the first half, two within 10 seconds.

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

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